This year’s whites run has been forecast to happen in late November according to one of WA’s leading rock lobster scientists.
However, the eager anticipation over this summer’s cray season is being overshadowed by community concerns that the proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park could see thousands locked out of some of the best prime cray fishing ground close to north Metro boat ramps.
According to DPIRD Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang, this year’s whites run is expected to kick off around late November to early December.
This is welcome news for metro cray fishers who make up a large part of the State’s 53,000 recreational rock lobster fishing licence-holders.
Once the whites run gets under way, generally moving in a north-westerly direction, traffic at Metro boat ramps begins to fire up as many boat fishers enjoy heading out “at sparrows” to pull pots and grab a feed of crays often before work.
To help predict the upcoming run of the crayfish along the WA coast, DPIRD collect the puerulus – a juvenile stage of a cray – with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish will seek shelter.
Based on the analysis of previous puerulus numbers, we are expecting a similar season to last year, with a good steady flow of catches and sizes.
However, taking the edge of this year’s excitement around the upcoming whites run are growing community concerns that extensive no-fishing sanctuary zones in soon-to-be released Marmion Marine Park extension proposals that could cover extensive prime cray fishing ground on or inside the Three-Mile reef.
The proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park will see its boundaries extend from Trigg to north of Two Rocks and go out from the shore to large sections of the Three-Mile Reef (see map below) – with proposed sanctuary zones potentially impacting on large areas out from Hillarys, Ocean Reef, Mindarie and Two Rocks boat ramps.
“Shooting out the harbour to grab a feed of crays before work during the whites run is one of the things that makes living in Perth so good,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland, “So we understand community concerns around sanctuary zones potentially heavily restricting fishing for crays out of north Metro boat ramps.
“That’s why we encourage all fishers to join our cast of thousands as a Recfishwest member to ensure our collective voice gets heard loud and clear when the marine park proposals are released for public comment potentially in the coming weeks.”
Not many things excite fishers like the annual rock lobster ‘whites run’.
It’s a time when metro cray fishing fires up to an outstanding level and dropping pots truly comes into its own!
Pulling in a heavy pot loaded with a feed of crays is the ultimate goal for many cray fishers and the whites run is your best opportunity to experience this.
The annual whites run is the main reason 80 per cent of all recreationally crays are caught using pots.
The whites run often occurs around late November and early December each year.
As the crays begin their annual migration to offshore waters, they provide unmatched fishing opportunities for potters.
The proximity to shore means people can head out early bag themselves some crays and be back in time for work.
The summer months are where more than half of the total recreational crays are caught!
In this article, we will provide you with a forecast ahead of the season from the puerulus settlement index the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) collects, provide answers to commonly asked questions and point you in the right direction to catching some of these super-tasty crustaceans in time for Christmas.
What is the 2019/20 season forecast looking like and what is the puerulus settlement index?
It appears a great season is ahead of us, the puerulus settlement for the 2015 and 2016 season is well above average.
Now what’s this puerulus settlement have to do with the cray season four years on?
Well, DPIRD developed a method to collect the puerulus which is a juvenile stage of a cray by using a specialised buoy that mimics natural algae habitat on which the juvenile crayfish like to settle.
DPIRD scientists work out the concentration for each new moon period of these settled puerulus and can then work out trends and patterns in recruitment.
This settlement information has a strong correlation with catches of crays in three to four years, once the crays have matured to a legal size.
Why are they called ‘whites’ and where are they ‘running’ to?
Good questions! A ‘white’ cray is a colloquial term applied to crays that are freshly moulted with their new soft, pale shell showing.
This is in comparison to pre-moulted crays which have a hard, dark red shell.
Juvenile crays settle along seagrass beds and rocky habitat close to shore.
Once they reach sexual maturity at about three to four years, they migrate en masse from this inshore habitat to the deeper offshore reef platforms in a north-westerly direction.
DPIRD research shows that crays can walk up to 5km a day with crays tagged at Rottnest showing up recaptured later at the Abrolhos!
That would definitely have the researchers double-checking the tag numbers!
Check out the fascinating migration maps provided by DPIRD Offshore Crustacean Principal Research Scientist Simon de Lestang showing huge distances the tagged cray cover.
OK, so it’s forecast to be a great season but the six million dollar question: when will the run actually happen?
Whilst there are multiple factors that influence exactly when the migration begins, it is generally understood that the migration will start towards the end of November and will reach full swing by the beginning of December.
The run is believed to be triggered by warming water temperatures and good catches usually continue until about Christmas time. Cooler water temps tend to delay the start of the migration.
Though this year, unlike the last, the warm water seems to have come early and crays were moulting as early as the first week of November.
How do I go about catching them?
The whites run is when potters do best.
Divers tend to be more consistent than those dropping pots across the year, but the period from late November to Christmas is when dropping pots come into its own. As crays are on the move from under their usual nearshore reef ledges, they will seek food and shelter along their migration path.
A well-set cray pot provides both of these needs. Keep dropping pots further out to sea as the migration continues, and check your pots every day during this period.
Crays can travel many kilometres a day so don’t be afraid to spread your pots out to get an idea of where good numbers of crays are each day.
Even though potters do best during the whites run there are also still plenty of divers in the water at this time so common sense needs to be used, keep a lookout for dive flags and don’t throw your old bait in the water if divers are nearby. There are plenty of crays for everyone to enjoy during the whites run.
What is a well-set pot?
Cray pots that are well-weighted are much harder to pull up but sit steadily on the seafloor while the swell and surge rolls back and forth. Heavy pots are also much more likely to stay put during a storm so they don’t end up tangled in the reef where they can become stuck and even detached from their ropes when the ropes rub against the reef overnight and fray.
Crays are much more likely to enter if the pot is still, any movement will mean no crays in the morning.
Pots should be set on the sand on the western side of natural habitats such as reef or weed, this way, as they migrate to the north-west, they will walk off the reef, onto the sand and find your pot sitting there ready for them.
Make sure the baits are fresh, so don’t let your bait get rotten in the basket, change it every few days at the very least.
Use something oily to get the best results, blue mackerel and orange roughy heads or the new burley bricks that are a great plastic-free alternative that are packed in cardboard ready to go in your bait basket.
A few more tips include clipping the tail of your crays as soon as possible, marking your floats clearly with your gear ID and it’s also worth marking your pots too.
You should also soak your pots before you deploy them as they’re known to bubble for at least 24 hours as the dry wood soaks up the saltwater, something that crays hate and you are unlikely to catch while they’re bubbling.
Thanks to Simon de Lestang from DPIRD for presenting this great information at the cray fishing night that was held at the Cockburn Power Boats Club.
There was a great turn-out from club members and non-members, with a huge amount of information shared over the course of the night.
Keep an eye out for club nights like these, they’re a great opportunity to meet like-minded fishers and advance your fishing knowledge. We expect this whites run, and the next, to be excellent and wish all fishers the best of luck chasing a feed of delicious WA crays for Christmas.
It’s coming up to that time of year, when many fishers will be dusting off their cray pots and loops in readiness for the annual ‘whites run’, a time when hauls of tasty crays (WA rock lobster) are pulled freshly from the inshore reefs, not far from the local boat ramp. Continue reading “Get geared up and ready for the whites’ run”→
WA has the best recreational crayfish fishery in the world and Recfishwest will fight to protect it;
Concerns over impact on recreational lobster catch and participation;
Nearshore crayfish abundance is critical to supporting quality fishing;
Recfishwest will never support any proposals that adversely impact on our fishing experiences.
Recfishwest believes that all WA fish stocks must be managed to provide optimal benefits to the WA community.
In December, Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly announced a plan to grow the rock lobster industry by increasing the quota available to the commercial sector by 1700 tonnes.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said Recfishwest had significant concerns about the plan which is currently open for consultation.
“Recfishwest will never support anything that adversely impacts on recreational fishing experiences,” Dr Rowland said.
He said high numbers of crayfish close to shore in the last few years thanks to conservative management has significantly increased the catchability for recreational fishers, which has led to record high participation rates.
“In recent years fishing experiences for recreational fishers had been boosted and participation has grown to almost 60,000 licence holders thanks to high abundances of crayfish on inshore reefs,” Dr Rowland said.
“We are keen to understand how these inshore reef areas will be protected under any proposal to grow the Western Rock Lobster Industry.
“The last thing we want to see is increased exploitation of these reefs by ramping up commercial catch by 1700t. That’s over three times the annual recreational catch.
“There is much more to fisheries management than simply the sustainable exploitation of a resource for economic gain, it’s also about managing the stock to ensure high abundance in the right areas.
“We are seeking more details on the Plan to ensure any management changes do not impact on potters and divers who enjoy catching crayfish along our coast.
“We look forward to further engagement with the Government that results in a plan that recognises the benefits of all stakeholders in this fishery.”
Recreational lobster fishers can now look forward to catching this popular species year round with Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly today announcing a 12 month season for recreational rock lobster fishing.
This change comes about following advice from Recfishwest’s Rock Lobster Reference Group who were keen to improve winter fishing opportunities, particularly for those fishing in the Mid-West and Gascoyne regions, including the Abrolhos Islands.
Calm weather windows are common in the Mid-West and Gascoyne regions during winter, making for safer fishing for everyone.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said this change to the rules comes about through good management of this fishery with the opportunity to expand the fishing season supported by the latest stock assessment.
“With biological sustainability well in hand comes the opportunity to provide the community with an even greater return from this fishery”
“Such a healthy stock allows fisheries managers to focus on optimising the fishing experiences”
“A feed of fresh crayfish is an amazing Western Australia experience with more people getting on the water and catching their own seafood.”
This announcement builds on other positive changes to recreational lobster rules over the past few years to ensure people’s fishing experiences are maximised and the rules are as simple and as practical as possible, including:
In October 2017, lobster rules changes allowed fishers to keep lobster in Setose condition;
Divers now have 5 minutes to sort their lobster catch in the safety of their boat;
Fishers can keep lobster tails at home – Previously, the law required lobsters to be kept and stored whole (with head and tail) unless they were being prepared for immediate consumption.
Two people can share a lobster pot – meaning greater participation and enjoyment for everyone.
The introduction of year round fishing will also require some slight changes for those who use pots.
Recreational lobster pots will now have to be rigged in a similar fashion to commercial pots to mitigate the potential risk of interaction with migrating whales.
Any pot using more than 20m of rope will be required to hold the top half of the rope vertically in the water column. This can be achieved by using sinking rope on the top half of the pot rope, or by simply attaching a weight such as a fishing sinker half way down the rope. Additionally, a maximum of two floats will apply on recreational pots.
“Recreational fishers are the stewards of the marine environment, and are happy to do their bit to minimise any interaction with protected species” Dr Rowland said.
“As well as reducing chances of whale interaction, these measures will reduce the likelihood of rope entangling in boat propellers and loss of ropes from propeller cut-off when excess is left floating on the surface. It’s a win-win”.
A new safety initiative to keep thousands of Western Australian lobster fishers safe will be rolled out along the West Coast in the coming weeks.
In recent years, deck hands have been injured after being struck by fishing gear snagged on lobster pot lines as pots are hauled to the surface on a high-speed winch.
To combat the dangers of snagged fishing gear, Recfishwest and Western Rock Lobster have launched the Snag It Tag It safety initiative and are distributing caution tags to recreational fishers.
Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland said the Snag It Tag It project is an important safety initiative.
“Rec fishers share the water with many other users and it’s important we all work together to ensure everyone returns home safe after a day’s fishing,” Dr Rowland said.
The Snag It Tag It initiative arms recreational fishers with waterproof caution tags to tie to ropes and floats if they accidently snag fishing gear on a lobster line or pot. This will mean deckhands on commercial fishing vessels face less risk of injury when pulling in pots at high speed.
Autumn is a popular season for recreational fishers to head out and fish for iconic WA species such as Dhufish, Baldchin Groper and Pink Snapper.
Recfishwest, the Australian Anglers Association (WA Division) and Western Rock Lobster have printed 4000 Snag It Tag It caution tags which have been distributed to local tackle outlets along Western Australia’s coastline.
Western Rock Lobster Chief Executive Officer Matt Taylor said the partnership with Recfishwest to deliver the caution tags to WA fishers was important to the lobster industry.
“This is a great opportunity for recreational and commercial fishers to work together to keep each other safe,” Mr Taylor said.
“We will be raising awareness and educating commercial fishers to be on the lookout for the caution tags, so they can operate winches with extra care and at a safe speed.”
“Our busy waters can be dangerous; these tags will be an important safeguard for commercial and recreational fishers alike.”
Western Rock Lobster and Recfishwest believe everyone should return home safe after a days fishing.
In July’s edition of Recfishwest’s Broadcast newsletter, we stated our firm belief that people diving for crays must be afforded the same opportunity as those who use pots and be given 5 minutes to sort their catch once safely aboard their boat. Recfishwest wrote to the Minister of Fisheries who subsequently requested Fisheries liaise with Recfishwest to ‘review fishing arrangements prior to the season commencement.’
Recfishwest is continuing to work with Fisheries in an effort to provide fishers with a clear set of rules that allows for the practicalities of diving and address our concerns. All fishers deserve rules that are clear, simple and fair.
Recfishwest’s position has not changed:
“While divers should make all attempts to measure and count lobsters as accurately as possible in the water, common sense allowances must be made given the often challenging conditions associated with diving in WA.
Once aboard the safety of the boat it is only fair and reasonable that divers are provided a 5 minute opportunity to make a secondary check for protected lobster (e.g. undersize, tar spot, setose) or lobsters in excess of the bag limit, and return to the water any lobster that may have inadvertently been caught.” Recfishwest CEO Dr. Andrew Rowland.
Why does it matter?
The current (recently amended) interpretation of rules for divers are unclear and do not support the best possible safety outcomes or provide for the best possible fishing experiences.
It is important fishing rules balance the need for safe, quality fishing experiences with the appropriate level of compliance and education to support long-term sustainability. Given there are zero sustainability concerns in regards to crays the rules need to focus on optimising fishing experiences and diver safety.
The current interpretation of the rules and the lack of clarity around a 5 minute period places unnecessary pressure to check catches underwater and to spend more time in the water than is otherwise necessary. In the case of free divers this increased time underwater greatly increases the risk of shallow water blackout.
It is also important rules are interpreted in a way that reflects community expectations about how publicly owned aquatic resources are accessed and managed. The rules must be clear, simple, fair and they must provide for the long accepted practice of completing the fishing activity once safely aboard the vessel.
If you’d like to listen to what Recfishwest’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say on ABC South Coast in July, 2017, press play below.
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Thanks to our current supporters, Recfishwest can continue the fight to keep fishing great in WA.
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In response to discussion on social media relating to the taking of rock lobster by divers, Recfishwest would like to put forward our position on the matter.
Recfishwest believe that people diving for crays must be afforded the same rules as those who use pots and be given a reasonable opportunity of 5 minutes to sort their catch when they return to the boat.
This would allow divers to accurately check for spawning conditions such as fine hairs on setose lobster whilst out of the water.
It is the view of Recfishwest that within the bounds of sustainability and in order to maximise recreational fishing experiences, management arrangements for this recreational-only component of the fishery should have significant input from the users themselves.
We always believed there has to be a better way to resolve this case than through the legal system simply to satisfy the legislative curiosity of a government Department. We’ve been calling on the Division of Fisheries to work with the community to clarify the rules on this matter over the last year.
If the law does not clearly state how you are allowed to fish then it is not a good law and needs to be changed – it’s as simple as that.
Recfishwest has written to Minister Kelly requesting changes to this regulation prior to the start of the 2017/18 Rock Lobster season.
If you’d like to listen to what Recfishwest’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say on ABC South Coast on July 7, 2017, click the link below.
As of October 15, the much-anticipated rock lobster season opens throughout Western Australia, with the iconic Western Rock Lobster being one of the prize catches in WA.
General consensus among lobster fishers was that the past season was another extremely productive one, highlighting just how well this fishery is managed and can only mean good things for the upcoming season.
Catch rates were not the only numbers breaking records last season, as the number of recreational rock lobster licence holders rose dramatically to over 52,000 licences.
In more good news, lobster fishers now have the option of removing lobster tails after they get their catch home. Previously, the law required lobsters to be kept and stored whole (with head and tail) unless they were being prepared for immediate consumption.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said lobster fishing is a uniquely Western Australia experience and we’re seeing more and more people getting involved, getting on the water and catching their own fresh seafood.
“Testament to how popular this activity is, it’s now common place to see scores of boats lined up at the boat ramp at dawn eager to get out before work for their slice of the action,” Dr Rowland said.
Recent juvenile lobster counts point towards a bumper season this year and if last season is anything to go by, we should see more people on the water having fun this summer catching this iconic WA species.