The WA recreational fishing community has said goodbye to a man who tirelessly gave much of his 96 years to the service of fishing in Western Australia.
From founding member and driving force of the Offshore Angling Club of WA for decades, to teaching thousands of fishers and school kids as a Department of Fisheries volunteer, to spearheading fisheries recreational fishing research programs, to advocating on behalf of fishers, there are few who can claim to have done as much for WA fishing as Laurie Birchall.
Along the way he touched the hearts of practically everyone with whom he came into contact, with his signature beaming smile, an endlessly upbeat attitude and ever ready to dispense fishing advice to anyone and everyone!
Laurie caught his first fish at just two-and-a-half years of age with his dad – and he was hooked from the start.
In 1958, with the help of his brothers George and Bob, he held the founding meeting of the Offshore Angling Club of Western Australia (OACWA) in his backyard in Leederville – an occasion by all accounts at which it was standing room only – a strong turn-out that augured well for the popularity and wide appeal of the club, which Laurie would go on to be President no less than eight times.
Laurie took inspiration for the name of the club with the help of his brothers George and Bob – from the name of the reel one of his brothers was cleaning at the time – an “Offshore” designed and manufactured by New South Welshman and tool-maker Bob Emslie.
Sixty-eight anglers were present at the club’s foundation meeting and just a year later in 1959 it had a membership of 600. The club’s objectives were to foster and promote all things angling in Western Australia – it was also strongly inclusive and progressive, as Laurie recalled in a Western Fisheries interview with him in 2010.
“When I started the [club], it was the first club in Western Australia that allowed women and children to join,” said Laurie. “All the other clubs were men only, but we wanted it to be a sociable activity for everyone. Within six months, we grew into the biggest club in WA and probably in Australia. We had approaching more than 1,000 members. We were the first club to introduce bag limits, even before the Department did, and then over the years other clubs followed suit.”
Laurie compiled and wrote much of the content for the OACWA’s legendary Fish Tales bulletin – a fabulous newsletter chock-full of the club’s comp results and reports, fishing tips, fish biology articles and a wide range of eclectic subject matter that seemed the remotest of connections with fishing, but was fascinating nevertheless! It was very much a reflection of Laurie’s love of fishing, but also his endless thirst for knowledge and curiosity about the world around him.
In everything he did, he was a keen exponent of promoting sustainable fishing practices, particularly in his educational role at the Department of Fisheries, teaching kids about fish biology and the need to fish for the future.
Of his education role at the Department of Fisheries he said, “We were trying to move fishing away from the indiscriminate slaughter it had become for a lot of anglers,” Laurie said, “We try and get that across to the kids today; how to identify their catch and look after it, whether they are returning it to the water or taking it home to eat, and if they are going to eat it, take only what they need for a feed.”
Laurie also promoted this ethic as a patron of the Australian Anglers Association of WA helping run its fishing clinics.
Laurie did much to advocate for recfishers – he was on one of the early Recreational Fishing Advisory Committees (RFAC) that provided input from our sector into fisheries management decisions
In addition, he campaigned for better recreational fishing facilities, including leading a campaign to extend the North Beach Jetty in Perth’s northern suburbs. Sadly, the campaign was unable to convince a short-sighted local council to embrace a bolder vision and the jetty remains today at just 22 metres long. A fitting legacy for Laurie would be to see this jetty restored to its original length or significantly extended, opening up more fishing opportunities for deserving metro land-based fishers.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Laurie was a founding member Fisheries’ original volunteer program – the Volunteer Fisheries Liaison Officers (VFLO) – working closely with Fisheries Officers to help promote good stewardship through beach-front contacts.
He also played a key role in the Department’s tailor monitoring program since it was launched in 1995. This involves volunteer fishers catching juvenile tailor at Point Walter and occasionally at City Beach in the summer and early autumn months to enable fisheries scientists to capture data and establish a tailor recruitment index to support management of this popular recreational species – a mainstay of metro land-based fishing.
Not surprisingly, for his thousands and thousands of hours of selfless, volunteering, Laurie received several awards, including the City of Joondalup Premier’s Australia Day Volunteer Award for services to fishing and local hospitals (he also volunteered at Charlie’s working with kidney patients). Yet he always remained humble about all of his achievements.
“You don’t do stuff like this for accolades,” he said in 2010, “I believe we’re on this earth to help our fellow man. That’s why I volunteer at the hospitals and the Department of Fisheries, and why I used to volunteer for Aged Care. You get a lot of pleasure out of helping people to achieve something. And if we don’t look after our children, I still think we’d be writing on cave walls.”
Recfishwest salutes Laurie and the amazing contribution made by this highly likeable, self-effacing true champion of WA fishing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Laurie’s family.
Banner Photo: Dan Pupazzoni