Future Focus for Gascoyne Pink Snapper

Pink snapper are the lifeblood of recreational fishing in the Gascoyne. These highly prized fish provide fantastic opportunity for both local and visiting fishers to tussle with a hard fighting, yet accessible sportfish that is also rated highly on the plate.

Managing our states fisheries is an exciting and challenging task

Readers might remember management changes for oceanic pink snapper were implemented last year, which included a snapper spawning closure north of Bernier Island, offshore from Carnarvon as well as a reduction in the allowable catch for the commercial fishing sector.

The community were consulted after a stock assessment indicated a risk to snapper numbers in the region, and agreed that these measures were appropriate to try and recover the snapper stock as quickly as possible. The spawning closure had over 96% support from the community. You can read more about it here.

Managing our states fisheries is an exciting and challenging task that takes place in a dynamic environment affected by many influences. This means that it’s important to constantly check-in on how management changes are affecting both our fish stocks and our fishing experiences.

In the case of Gascoyne pink snapper, Recfishwest recently met with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and representatives from the commercial fishing sector to further develop the recovery plan for the oceanic pink snapper resource in the Gascoyne region.

Recfishwest is proud to continue to work with all stakeholders to refine the recovery strategy in order to rebuild this snapper stock as soon as possible

This work includes reviewing current research and management actions, endorsing appropriate catch levels and timelines for future stock assessments and discussing future management to stimulate the fishery to recover at the desired rate.

Recfishwest is proud to continue to work with all stakeholders to refine the recovery strategy in order to rebuild this snapper stock as soon as possible.

Recreational fishing is an integral part of Carnarvon’s social fabric and local economy, so it’s vitally important that we balance the protection of this valuable resource with the opportunity to visit Carnarvon and fish in other places, or for different species. Through positive community engagement and consultation, this balance was achieved.

If you are planning on travelling to Carnarvon for a fishing trip, it is worth noting that the spawning closure is in effect from the 1st of June – 31st August. This doesn’t affect fishing for other species such as coral trout or red emperor.

Positive community engagement and consultation leads to better protection of these valuable fish

Time to Get Involved and Have Your Say on Port Options

In September 2017 the Government established the Westport Taskforce to advise them about the future transport needs of Western Australia and how these needs can be best achieved. In determining WA’s future transport needs the question of whether an Outer Harbour in Cockburn Sound or Bunbury is needed or whether the current Port at Fremantle can continue to meet the states future transport needs will be answered.

Given any port development can be expected to impact on fishing experiences (especially within Cockburn Sound) Recfishwest joined the Westport Taskforce’s Reference Group and also secured a position on its environmental working group.  We have provided the Taskforce with information about recreational fishing, social, economic, recreational and environmental values in Cockburn Sound, Fremantle and Bunbury in order to help guide the Taskforce to make informed recommendations.  Recfishwest have ensured the importance of Pink Snapper breeding grounds, seagrass nursery meadows, iconic wrecks and a number of other factors that make Cockburn Sound so important for fishing have been acknowledged.

Recfishwest have driven home the important role Cockburn Sound plays in providing great fishing experiences. The recreational fishing community have long been active stewards in protecting Cockburn Sound whenever possible.  We were a driving force behind the creation of the Cockburn Sound Management Council and have been a foundation member on the council since its inception. We were pivotal in implementing a spawning closure for Pink Snapper and we delivered the Snapper Guardians program which saw over 100,000 Pink Snapper stocked into the Sound after more than 400 fishers reached into their own pocket to help the cause.

Recfishwest have been advocating on behalf of Cockburn Sound for decades. From Cockburn Cement’s dredging program, the proposed livestock holding facility, James Point, fish kills and a series of port proposals over the years, we have been there defending the Sound to protect the fishing experiences we cherish.

Any decision regarding the State’s future transport requirements must be considerate of social and environmental needs.  Any proposal that reduces fish habitat, fish abundance or restrict people’s right to access our local waters will be strongly opposed.

On 12 December 2018 a report on what the Westport Taskforce has found so far was released for public consultation and this report has identified the following eight options as the best plan for future port developments in Western Australia.

  1. Current situation – regarded as the base case
  2. Optimise Fremantle and transition containers to Kwinana over time, with an option to transition them to Bunbury in the long-term
  3. Optimise Fremantle and transition containers to Bunbury over time with no containers in Kwinana
  4. De-industrialise Fremantle and move containers to Kwinana as soon as possible
  5. De-industrialise Fremantle and move containers to Bunbury as soon as possible
  6. Fremantle and Kwinana both have containers for the long-term
  7. Fremantle and Bunbury both have containers for the long-term
  8. Only Fremantle has containers for the long-term

This report highlights Cockburn Sound as a regionally significant spawning / nursery area for Pink snapper, King George whiting, Garfish and Blue swimmer crabs.  The report also confirms Cockburn Sound has the most marine/estuarine environmental and social values of the three proposed locations.  In fact over 87% of all identified environmental and social values across the three proposed locations are found in Cockburn Sound.

The environment that supports our fishing experiences has always been our number one concern and the reason we committed to the Westport Taskforce process. The latest report clearly demonstrates the environmental risks associated with the development of another port in Cockburn Sound are greater than for any of the other locations.

The report also shows that while there are challenges with developing a port in each of the three proposed locations there are no factors that make it impossible for these developments to occur.  As there are more environmentally friendly alternatives to the further development of Cockburn Sound, Recfishwest will not support options that are most likely to impact on our fish, their habitat or our fishing experiences.

Of the 8 available options Recfishwest’s preference is for Option 3 or 7.

Option 3. “Optimise Fremantle and transition containers to Bunbury over time with no containers in Kwinana” or

Option 7. “Fremantle and Bunbury both have containers for the long-term”

Recfishwest will not support any options that further impact on Cockburn Sound fishing experiences.

While the Minister’s foreword in this new report makes reference to an election commitment to plan and build a future Outer Harbour at Kwinana and on 7th November 2018 the Minister also tabled a Bill in parliament likely to limit the available options for developing road infrastructure to support expansion of Fremantle port (Metropolitan Region Scheme [Beeliar Wetlands] Bill 2018) the 8 options presented in the new report are the work of the Westport Taskforce and not the Planning Minister.

While Recfishwest is happy to constructively contribute to finding the best solution to WA’s future transport needs, we need the fishing community to provide feedback during the times of public consultation.  This will ensure the Taskforce and the Minister have a good understanding of the community’s expectations.  Please watch the short video (3 min 45sec) about the eight options mentioned above, have a look through the new report and get involved by completing the short survey making sure to rank your preferred option.

To watch the short video, click Here

To read the what the latest Taskforce report click Here 

To complete the survey click Here 

To read the Ministers media release click Here

Although we are actively contributing to positive policy development through this process, we cannot guarantee what the final recommendation of the Westport Taskforce will be.  What we can guarantee is that Recfishwest will continue to fight to protect Pink Snapper and the great fishing provided by Cockburn Sound.

 

Fisheries Wary Over Snapper Stocks

The Department of Fisheries today raised concerns over the robustness of pink snapper stocks along the west coast.

On the back of an announcement around the annual closure for pink snapper fishing in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, DPIRD Fisheries Management Officer Shane Walters had the following message for fishers.

“It’s important fishers understand pink snapper have variable recruitment with only one to two strong years each decade and the majority of the current West Coast pink snapper catch is attributed to a good recruitment year in 2005”

Mr Walters said recent research into pink snapper spawning activity in the Sounds and recreational fishing activity targeting pink snapper aggregations, prior to the spawning closure, may require a review of the closure to ensure the species nursery is adequately protected.

Recreational fishers have a long history of protecting pink snapper stocks on the west coast, with the implementation of the Cockburn and Warnbro Sound spawning closures being driven by recreational fishers after witnessing large catches of spawning fish during spring.

Recfishwest will continue to work with Fisheries to ensure that snapper stocks are managed appropriately to ensure the current level of high quality fishing remains.

A stock assessment for all west coast demersal scalefish, including pink snapper is due shortly.

Read the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (Fisheries Division) media statement here.

Snapper Fishers Needed to Help Seagrass Reseeding Trial

 

In an Australian first, hundreds of West Australian recreational fishers will be asked to take part in a trial to restore the lost seagrass meadows of Cockburn Sound.

A Community Information Session will be held at the Cockburn Power Boats Club at Woodman Point on 3rd October for people to come down and learn a bit more about this trial.

Cockburn Sound has lost some 80% of its seagrass habitat since the 1960’s, down from 4000ha originally, to 900ha today.

Seagrass meadows of Cockburn Sound are critical foraging and nursery grounds for Pink Snapper and plenty of other important species such as Blue Swimmer Crab, King George Whiting and Squid.

OzFish Unlimited is leading this trial, with support from Recfishwest and researchers from the University of Western Australia, along with BCF.

A baron sandy floor with little seagrass coverage; a great reason to have a go and see if the trial works!

The WA community have a close affiliation with Cockburn Sound, with plenty of good work done previously to protect Pink Snapper stocks, including Recfishwest’s famous Snapper Guardians initiative. Spawning closures, bag limits and stocking events are proof the fishing community value the Pink Snapper fishery of Cockburn Sound.

A baron sandy floor with little seagrass coverage; a great reason to have a go and see if the trial works!

The WA community have a close affiliation with Cockburn Sound, with plenty of good work done previously to protect Pink Snapper stocks.  Recfishwest’s Snapper Guardians initiative, spawning closures, and support for strict management are proof the fishing community value the Pink Snapper fishery of Cockburn Sound.

Seagrass flowers and seeds are most commonly seen floating together as mats.

This sense of caring deeply about Cockburn Sound sees the fishing community wanting to  trail something out of the ordinary in an effort to restore lost fish habitat.

Recfishwest and Ozfish are hosting a community information session at the Cockburn Power Boats Club. Come and learn more about the project and how you can be involved. Register below.

 

 

 

 

Seeds for Snapper Community Information Session Details:

Where: Cockburn Power Club, Woodman Point

When: 3rd October, 6:30pm – 8pm

Who: Ozfish, Recfishwest & University of Western Australia

Seeds for Snapper is also supported by BCF, as a major partner of Ozfish Unlimited.

Background Information

In Western Australia, the Pink Snapper fishery has been part of the cultural fabric for generations with fishers across the state delighting in catching Pinkies. After Shark Bay, Cockburn Sound is Western Australia’s second largest Pink Snapper spawning ground. However, in recent years the Pink Snapper fishery has seen management changes across the state due to fishing pressures, environmental changes and seagrass habitat degradation.

The seagrass meadows of Cockburn Sound are well recognized as critical foraging and nursery grounds for Pink Snapper. Yet, Cockburn Sound has lost some 80% of its seagrass habitat since the 1960’s, down from 4000ha originally, to 900ha today. That’s equivalent to 2, 600 football field-sized areas of seagrass habitat lost over the past few decades! Important species affected by the seagrass loss include not only Pink Snapper but others such as squid, garfish and blue swimmer crabs.

Appreciation of the role seagrass meadows play in providing great fishing opportunities is growing in Western Australia due to increased understanding of the critical link between our seagrass habitats and coastal fisheries.

People may have already seen the racks of flower pods collected by currents floating on the water’s surface. These will be collected and taken to UWA for treatment to separate the seed from the flower pods.

OzFish Unlimited have partnered with Recfishwest and the University of Western Australia (UWA) to support this citizen science restoration program’s plan to use volunteer fishers to release 1 Million seagrass seeds to scale up seagrass restoration.

The seed will be given to fishers to take back out and sown into an area identified just north of Woodman’s Point.  Evaluating the performance of the re-seeded meadows as they develop will also be measured by this project.

An overarching aim of this restoration program is to ensure there is full engagement with the recreational fishing community across the different elements of seed-based seagrass restoration and the outcomes of their re-seeding program to foster community support.

 

 

Register here to attend the information night

Seeds for Snapper

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Put Snapper on Your Agenda at Community Info Sessions

The Westport Taskforce want to hear from you.

Over the years there have been a number of proposals for a new harbour in Cockburn Sound. There is currently a taskforce (Westport) who aim to tell the government what the future transport needs of Western Australia will be and how to best achieve them.

The Westport taskforce will be holding three community information sessions across July and August in Fremantle, Kwinana and Bunbury and keen and interested fishers are encouraged to head down to let this taskforce know what you think. Due to venue limits, RSVP’s are essential.

Details of the upcoming information sessions can be found below:

Session details
Westport invite you to drop-in at any time during the two-hour sessions to speak with members of the Westport team.

Fremantle
Date and time: Wednesday 11 July 2018 – 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Venue: Stackwood – 10 Stack Street, Fremantle 6160

Kwinana
Date and time: Wednesday 18 July 2018 – 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Venue: Darius Wells Centre, Ken Jackman Room – Cnr Chisham Avenue and Robbos Place, Kwinana 6167

Bunbury
Date and time: Wednesday 1 August 2018 – 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Venue: Maker + Co – 75B Victoria Street, Bunbury 6230

Due to venue limits, RSVPs are essential.
Please email or call 6551 6479 to register and indicate which session you wish to attend.
For more information visit the Department of Transport website here:
https://www.transport.wa.gov.au/…/westport-port-and-environ…

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Recfishwest have secured a position on the environmental work group for the Westport taskforce so you can be sure this task force is well aware of the importance of snapper breeding grounds, seagrass nursery meadows, iconic wrecks and a number of other factors that make Cockburn Sound so important for fishing. Recfishwest has already provided a submission on the preparation of the Westport Strategy and we will provide submissions at every stage of the process until the final report is released towards the end of 2019.

Now is the time to provide input and ensure decision makers have the best available information with which to make the best possible decision. Should bad decisions be made because no one has given the taskforce the right information in the first place then we will only have ourselves to blame.

While we do not know what the final recommendation of the Westport taskforce will be, Recfishwest will continue to fight to protect the fishing experiences provided by Cockburn Sound just as we have been doing for decades.

A few people have asked where Recfishwest stand on an Outer Harbor.

To read Recfishwest’s position on the Outer Harbour issue see below: 

Recfishwest Protecting Cockburn Sound_Outer Harbour Position_July 2018

 

Carnarvon Pink Snapper Update

In our last monthly broadcast, we asked the community their thoughts on having a three month closure to protect spawning aggregations of pink snapper in the Gascoyne Region (read it all here).

This follows a recent stock assessment completed by DPIRD (Fisheries) which indicated a risk to snapper sustainability, creating a concern for both Recfishwest and the Carnarvon fishing community.

Pink Snapper are the lifeblood of recreational fishing in the Gascoyne and provide fantastic opportunity for both local and visiting fishers to tussle with a hard fighting, yet accessible sportfish that is also rated highly on the plate.

The Proposal

Pink Snapper spawning aggregation in Cockburn Sound during their spawning closure. (Image courtesy WA Gov news)

Fisheries proposed a closure to pink snapper fishing north of Bernier Island, including Koks Island, during the peak spawning period from 1 June to 31 August. Bernier Island is located approximately 50 kilometres off the coast from Carnarvon.

Similar closures have been effective in protecting pink snapper aggregations in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds in the Perth metropolitan area and the inner gulfs of Shark Bay.

The proposed closed area represents about 2-4 per cent of the total area fished by all sectors in the Gascoyne Coast Bioregion, however up to 70 per cent of the commercial pink snapper catch is taken from these waters during the peak spawning period.

This proposal does not impact on fishing for other species such as Coral Trout and Red Emperor.

Read the full fisheries proposal here.


Community Feedback and Our Position

The people of Carnarvon love fishing and genuinely care about healthy fisheries. Local fishers have shown an overwhelming willingness to be part of the solution for recovering the pink snapper fishery. This was highlighted in the responses to our community survey which indicated 96% support for the proposal to protect pink snapper spawning aggregations.

After reviewing the community responses, we’re happy to provide you with our response back to Government on the proposed spawning closure. Recfishwest supports this proposal and believes it is important to protect this Pink Snapper breeding stock to ensure great fishing experiences for all in the West Australian community forever.

Read it here .11.04.18 DPIRD – Recfishwest Advice on Proposed Mgt Gascoyne Oceanic Pink Snapper Stock

 

 

Local Carnarvon Fishers Finally Get Their Say on Snapper Conservation

MEDIA STATEMENT

  • Action required to rebuild snapper stocks
  • Local fishers have shown an overwhelming willingness to be part of the solution
  • Recfishwest will continue to work to ensure the government clearly understand the views of Gascoyne fishers
  • Community urged to have their say here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/gascoynesnapper

Recfishwest welcomes today’s announcement from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) who are currently seeking comments on a proposal to introduce a spawning closure for Pink Snapper in an area around the northern end of Bernier Island, offshore from Carnarvon.

The proposed closure addresses concerns over the sustainability of the oceanic Pink Snapper in the Gascoyne region and the fishing community are now strongly urged to have their say!

Pink Snapper are the lifeblood of recreational fishing in the Gascoyne. These highly prized fish provide fantastic opportunity for both local and visiting fishers to tussle with a hard fighting, yet accessible sportfish that is also rated highly on the plate.

A recent stock assessment completed by DPIRD indicating a risk to snapper sustainability has been met with concern by both Recfishwest and the Carnarvon fishing community.

Recfishwest believes it is important to protect this Pink Snapper breeding stock. We are pleased to see this proposal does not impact on fishing for other species such as Coral Trout and Red Emperor.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland has indicated that closures to protect spawning Pink Snapper have worked well in both Cockburn Sound and the inner gulfs of Shark Bay and has commended the local Carnarvon community for their input on this issue so far.

Pink Snapper spawning aggregation in Cockburn Sound during their spawning closure. (Image courtesy WA Gov news)

“We’ve never understood why spawning closures haven’t been implemented for the Carnarvon fishery when they have been so effective in Cockburn Sound and Shark Bay for decades.”

The current proposal takes on board feedback provided by community members through a working group process and it’s now time for the broader community to have their say!

“The people of Carnarvon love fishing and genuinely care about healthy fisheries. Local fishers have shown an overwhelming willingness to be part of the solution for recovering the Pink Snapper fishery”

“Recfishwest will continue to work to ensure the government clearly understand the views of locals and visitors who enjoy fishing in the Gascoyne” Dr Rowland said.

We urge all fishers with an interest in this fishery to complete our survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/gascoynesnapper

Read what the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) had to say about Rebuilding Gascoyne Pink Snapper stocks here.

Another Year, Another Successful Snapper Guardians

Hundreds of families turned out to release thousands of juvenile Pink Snapper on the 10th of February at Snapper Guardians 2018.  The perfect weather conditions allowed kids and parents to get right in the water and watch their fish swim off into the wild.

So far over 100,000 Pink Snapper have been grown out and released through the Snapper Guardians program.

This program is continuing to build community stewardship for one of WA’s iconic species.

Cockburn Sound’s Pink Snapper stocks are one of the most important fisheries in WA as these waters are home to the largest spawning aggregations of snapper on the West Coast.

 “Fishing for Pink Snapper off the Perth coast is continually improving and there’s no reason why this fishery couldn’t be the best Pink Snapper fishery in Australia.” Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.

Photo courtesy of Julie Van Oosten Photography.

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly was once again on the beach seeing first-hand how important this event is to the community, especially the children, many of whom got the chance to release their very first fish providing a positive experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Minster Kelly with Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland releasing some juvenile Pink Snapper.

“It was fantastic to join the hundreds of mums, dads, kids and avid fishers down at the beach for such a fun and important recreational fishing initiative.

Recreational fishing is an important part of WA’s way of life and an important economic driver. Which is why the McGowan Government supports recreational fishing projects through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund.

Each and every licence holder contributes to this fund with 25 percent of recreational licence fees placed into this fund.

I congratulate Recfishwest and Fisheries staff at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for their hard work on this project.”

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland expressed what his team are working so hard to protect.

“As your peak body organisation representing you, it’s our role to stand up and protect important waterways around WA such as Cockburn Sound’s Pink Snapper spawning grounds.” Dr Rowland said.

Photo courtesy of Julie Van Oosten Photography.

“We know there’s been a long running history of competing uses in the sound and getting the balance right will always be a challenge. Programs like Snapper Guardians play an important role in highlighting the importance of Cockburn Sound to our sector.”

“The team at Recfishwest would like to thank the hundreds of families that came down and did their bit for Pink Snapper in Cockburn Sound. We’re always thrilled to see the community rolling up their sleeves and making a difference!”

Photo courtesy of Julie Van Oosten Photography.

Snapper Guardians 2018 was made possible through funding from the State Government and the ongoing support of the WA community.

 

Conservation Leads to the Return of a Natural Phenomenon

Images of thousands of Pink Snapper forming incredible spiralling vortexes on the surface have recently gone viral! These vortexes are huge spawning schools of snapper and are something that, up until the last few years, Australian fishers have rarely seen before and there is a very good reason why we are only just rediscovering this natural phenomenon!

Image: This diagram shows what is happening inside the snapper vortex.

Many species of fish return to the same location every year to spawn. For Pink Snapper, there are a few particularly special locations that we rely on every year to ensure the future of the wild stock for this species. Cockburn and Warnbro sounds are the largest and most important spawning grounds for Pink Snapper in the entire West Coast bioregion.

The late 1990’s saw West Australian Snapper fishers become increasingly concerned with the targeting of spawning fish in Cockburn Sound. Snapper come into the sound in great numbers through winter to begin their annual spawning activities in spring. This provided fishers with an easy opportunity to target these fish in a relatively calm, accessible location right on the doorstep of the metropolitan area.

As stewards of the marine environment, fishers of the day were uncomfortable with the amount of snapper being caught during the spring spawning period and approached Recfishwest to advocate for a spawning closure to protect these important breeding fish. It was the first closure driven by recreational fishers to ensure long-term protection for a species which they held so highly.

In 2000, the then Fisheries Minister Monty House supported the recreational fishing sectors call for the protection of the spawning snapper and implemented a fishing closure in Cockburn Sound from September 15 to October 30.  This decision was the catalyst for what is now one of the most highly regarded fisheries management arrangements in WA.

After 17 years and a few changes to the spawning closure, including the extension of the closure into January as well as the inclusion of Warnbro Sound, Pink Snapper are now amassing in numbers never seen by many local fishers. This has led to many fishers witnessing the spectacle that is spawning snapper for the first time in their lives.

As the snapper come together to spawn they begin to circle in the same direction close to the surface until they form a dense spiral of fish. The power of these fish is such that it creates a vortex in the centre of this aggregation. For many species of surface spawning fish, it is thought that this vortex assists the eggs in rising towards the surface more quickly than they would without the help of the vortex (Heyman et al. 2005). While these snapper vortexes are a natural phenomenon, they are something that most fishers across Australia have never seen in their lives. While Pink Snapper have always spawned in Cockburn and Warnbro sounds it has only been the last couple of years that this phenomenon has begun to be seen again and it is largely thanks to local fishers that we can witness this again.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland remembers the day this Snapper closure first came into play and commended the fishing community for driving the important decision.

“If it wasn’t for the foresight of a proactive fishing community 17 years ago, the story may be a little different, it’s something we all should be proud of,” Dr Rowland said.

The spiralling vortexes of snapper and great snapper fishing outside of seasonal closures suggest the stock is continuing on its road to recovery. As populations slowly return to a healthy level, who knows what we will discover next about this important and fascinating species.

Check it out for yourself, this footage was taken during this year’s spawning season by the team at www.ilovefishing.com.au

Read our world first project supporting Pink Snapper recovery:

Behind the Scenes: Snapper Guardians Egg Collection

Check out the latest Pink Snapper egg collection video from October 2017, where fertilised eggs are collected to contribute to our Snapper Guardians Program.

References:
Reef Fish Spawning Aggregations: Biology, Research and Management. 2012. Sadovy de Mitcheson. Y., Colin. P., Fish and Fisheries Series 35.
Spawning aggregations of Lutjanus cyanopterus (Cuvier) on the Belize Barrier Reef over a 6 year period. 2005. Heyman, W., Kjerfve. B., Graham. R., Rhodes. K., Garbutt. L. Journal of Fish Biology (2005) 67, 83—101

Behind the Scenes: Snapper Guardians Egg Collection

Recfishwest recently joined the team from the Australian Centre for Applied Aquaculture and Research (ACAAR) on their mission to collect fertilised snapper eggs for this summer’s Snapper Guardian’s project.

Recfishwest habitat officer Michael Tropiano joined ACAAR where they successfully collected enough fertilised eggs to once again stock Cockburn Sound with one of WA’s most important recreational fishing species.

Check out the video below to see some of the action as it happened.

Pink Snapper are found throughout the world, however, in the West Coast bioregion of Western Australia, there are a few particularly special locations that we rely on every year to ensure the future of the wild stock for this species. Cockburn and Warnbro sounds are the largest and most important spawning grounds for Pink Snapper in the entire West Coast bioregion and the health of these systems has a close linkage to the ongoing health of the wild stock of this species. 

While all spawning in the same location makes for simple protection of spawning snapper (the closure in the sounds protects spawning snapper from 1 October – 31 January), for these fish, releasing all their eggs in one location does have the potential to be a risky strategy.

For any fish egg to hatch, and survive all the way to adulthood is a struggle against the forces of nature. For Pink Snapper, in particular, it’s the first few months when the eggs are most vulnerable. Whether a Snapper egg hatches and survives these first few perilous months is almost completely dependent upon the environmental conditions. Most years, unfortunately, the environmental conditions aren’t quite right and only a small number of snapper actually hatch and survive. Luckily there are a few times every decade when the perfect conditions line up with spawning time and there is a boom year with a huge number of snapper hatching and surviving.

Image: Bongo nets skimming the surface collecting snapper eggs.

The strategy to spawn all in the one location and the huge natural variations in their spawning success, coupled with the fact that the Pink Snapper stock is still in a recovery phase, means these snapper are literally putting all their eggs in the one basket…

Image: School of spawning Pink Snapper spotted on the sounder.

Given the importance of Pink Snapper to Western Australian fishers and knowing the risks associated with their spawning strategy, there was an investment in 2015 into a trial project to see if it was possible to create a Pink Snapper insurance policy. The idea behind the trial was to test if it was possible to collect a very small number of eggs from the wild (the amount spawned by only two or three snapper) and grow them large enough to potentially release, plus test the genetics to ensure they would reflect that of the natural population.

If this trial was successful (as it was), then it would provide an insurance policy in case something happened or the conditions turned out to be unfavourable for their survival in the sound year after year. The idea was that once these insurance snapper were to reach a size where they were no longer dependent on favourable environmental conditions to survive, they could then be released back into the wild to support the natural recovery of this species.  As with all insurance policies, you hope you never have to use them, however in 2015 there was a large fish kill in Cockburn Sound and the insurance policy was called upon in its first year.

The trial project proved to be a success and is now known as Snapper Guardians and has been running for three years. Over the last few weeks, the staff from ACAAR have been out working into the late hours of the night to try and to collect just enough eggs to create this year’s supply of insurance snapper. The good news is, it looks like they have been able to collect enough eggs to again begin running Snapper Guardians. The latest news is that snapper eggs have just hatched and are being carefully reared at their hatchery in Fremantle.

The plan this year is to again release the snapper back into the wild once they are big enough to survive on their own. Stay tuned for more details on how you can lend a hand in the community release day early next year.

Read WA Today’s coverage of our story, here.

Fact file
• The Snapper Guardians program has already released 100,000 baby Pink Snapper back into the wild.
• The original trial project was funded through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives fund and was run by ACAAR with support from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Recfishwest.
• In 2016 the WA State Government committed funds to continue the program running for two years.

Fisheries Fact Sheet: Pink Snapper Government of Western Australia, Department of Fisheries. 2011.

Reference
Fisheries Fact Sheet: Pink Snapper. Government of Western Australia, Department of Fisheries. 2011.Sourced:http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/recreational_fishing/fact_sheets/fact_sheet_pink_snapper.pdf