Playing your part in ensuring a better future for west coast demersals

While many fishers are understandably frustrated by the Fisheries’ Minister’s final decision on the future management of the west coast demersal fishery, it is clear we all need to do what we can to ensure better stewardship of these fish and to reduce fishing mortality.  

For the overwhelming majority of recreational fishers who care about these iconic fish, this is simply the right thing to do – but it also will help to further speed up the recovery of the demersal fish stocks, potentially leading to a quicker relaxing of the fishing restrictions put in place.  

Fishing mortality is the number of fish that die as a result of fishing – that does not just mean fish that end up in the esky, it also includes fish that expire because of barotrauma, bad handling, deep-hooking injuries and shark bite-off.  

Recfishers already have a very strong track-record in looking after demersals. This includes supporting increased spawning closures for pink snapper in Cockburn Sound, initiating and supporting the compulsory use of release weights, forming the Snapper Guardians stocking program and playing our part in providing samples for DPIRD’s Send Us Your Skeletons program, to mention just a few examples. 

Recfishwest is also preparing to launch the Dhufish Forever Alliance – a broad-based community alliance calling for and supporting better stewardship, better science and better management to result in a better future for west coast demersal fish.  

For all of that though, we still need to do better collectively to reduce the number of fish dying as a result of fishing, because: 

a) It’s the right thing to do and will help speed up the recovery rate; and  

b) It will give us a better chance of seeing the current rules relaxed quicker – at the moment DPIRD scientists calculate that for every two dhufish released, one will die as a result of post-release mortality. If we can reduce the number of fish released through better fishing behaviour, the stocks will rebuild quicker, resulting in better fishing experiences.  

Demersal species such as dhufish have a high post-release mortality rate and should not be targeted for catch and release fishing. Image: Marco Fraschetti.

How can you do your bit?  

Below are some of the things we should all be doing to cut down on the number of fish dying that you are not taking for the table.  

Catch and release fishing for demersals is not OK

Demersals are particularly vulnerable to barotrauma, particularly when caught in depths greater than 30 metres. Research on dhufish shows a substantial proportion of fish caught at depths over 30m die when released, with survival rate decreasing the deeper the fish are caught. 

And it’s not just barotrauma that can kill released fish – bad handling, deep-hooking and being preyed on by sharks before and after being caught and released – all takes its toll on fish numbers.  

If you see or hear people bragging about the number of dhuies they caught and released in their session, perhaps have the conversation with them in a reasoned way. Accepting and understanding that demersals are not catch and release species is in everyone’s best interest.      

Demersals should not be regarded as a sportfish. Once you’ve got what you need – and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fish up to your bag limit either – stop fishing for demersals and try your luck on other species.  

Targeting pelagic or inshore species other than demersal finfish are always great alternatives when fishing. Trolling for pelagics such as tuna can be a great adrenaline rush, while fishing for squid can provide a delicious feed. Image left: Fishin’Wishin Life

Switch your fishing

There are plenty of other options – troll for some tuna, jig for a Samson fish, target yellowtail kingfish around shallow reefs – come inshore with smaller baits for whiting or put a jig out for some tasty squid.  

While dhuies and snapper have been the mainstay of recreational boat fishing for decades, there are many excellent options for catching a feed of fish along the west coast.  

Use release weights to return demersal finfish species in water depths greater than 10m 

A release weight – a simple device, pioneered by West Australian anglers, allows demersal finish to be returned to the depth they were caught from quickly, helping reduce the effects of barotrauma and assisting in recovery.  

Legally, you have to have a release weight on board – but make sure they’re not just there for show. You can find our guide on how to use release weights here.

Release weights must be carried on board boats and are the best way of quickly returning unwanted demersal fish to the depths they were caught from to reduce the effects of barotrauma and increase the fish’s odds of survival.

Handle with care and release unwanted fish quickly  

Fish gills contain fragile blood vessels which can become easily damaged by human hands and excessive force. So, if you’re going to return a fish, avoid sticking your hands in behind the fish’s gill plates and keep your fingers away from their eyes.  

Cradle the fish by placing your wet hands and forearm (if additional support is required) under its belly and supporting its body weight, with the other hand around the tail.  

You also want to avoid placing the fish on a hot deck. If you can do it, keeping the fish in the water while unhooking and attaching a release weight is the best way. if however, you are going to bring the fish on board, you can either cradle your catch gently while unhooking or place the fish on a wet towel or brag mat.  

Use a good pair of pliers to remove the hooks from the fish – if the fish is deep-hooked, cut the line off as close to the fish’s mouth as possible. Trying to get the hook out when a fish is deep-hooked can lead to fatal damage to its vital organs.  

If you want to take a picture of your catch before releasing it, have your phone or your camera gear to hand and ready to go so a fish can be photographed and returned as quickly as possible with minimal fuss.  

Click here to read Recfishwest’s correct fish handling practices  

It is crucial to handle demersal finfish correctly by avoiding touching their gills, cradling the fish’s belly, not placing them on hot surfaces, using pliers to remove hooks and cutting the line as close to the fish’s mouth as possible if they are deep-hooked. (Image left: Marco Fraschetti. Image right: Paul Cunningham).

Look after the fish you’re keeping

A fish’s eating quality starts deteriorating from the moment it is caught, so dispatch it quickly and get it in an ice slurry to keep it fresh. These are prized fish, and we want to ensure the best possible eating quality is maintained. 

Change up your spot if sharks are around  

If you get ‘sharked’ once it is usually only going to go one way from there. Sharks are opportunistic predators and if they get a free feed of a big demersal species, they are going to stick around and attack any other fish that is hooked. Avoid giving the taxman a free lunch at the expense of our demersal stocks move spots.

Click here for the best tips on avoiding sharks from accomplished fishers and tackle store experts.

If any of your demersal catches start falling victim to shark bite-off, it is time to move spots immediately. Do not try and battle it out against the ocean’s most adapted marine predator.

Join our Dhufish Forever Alliance

We want to build an alliance everyone can get behind who cares about the future of dhufish and all our west coast demersals. By joining the alliance, you will be demonstrating your commitment to ensuring there will be plenty of these fantastic fish around for us all to enjoy in the future. 

Click here for more details on Recfishwest’s Dhufish Forever campaign and how to join it

Working together to protect our image

If you’re already doing all of the things above, that’s great, but you can still play your part by encouraging friends, family, members of your fishing club or in your fishing social media forums to do the same.  

If anything, the last few months have shown us we need to work together more as a community to protect these important fish – one of the practical ways you can do that is by engaging with other fishers and encouraging them to do the right thing as well. 

With our way of life under increasing pressure from stringent fishery management rules, some conservationists’ and animal rights activists’ agendas, we also need to give some thought as to how our behaviour comes across to the wider community and other groups.  

For example, while it may get some likes off your mates on Facebook, is hanging a bloody dhuie from your backyard washing line for a trophy shot a good look? Is that really respecting these fantastic fish that give us all so much pleasure and magic fishing experiences?  

We are not talking about being the fun police here, everyone has the right to do what they want so long as it is within the boundary of the law.  

However, we can all play a role in calling this kind of stuff out in a reasonable and reasoned manner as it could impact on all of our fishing experiences. 

If we all work together to improve the stewardship of these fish and reduce demersal mortality rates, we will speed up the recovery of the demersal fish stocks, potentially leading to a quicker relaxing of the fishing restrictions put in place for more better experiences catching these special fish.

Banner image credit: Fishin’Wishin Life & Marco Fraschetti

Help sew the seeds for a healthier future for Cockburn Sound

Recfishwest is encouraging metro fishers to get involved and back in Ozfish’s latest Seeds for Snapper drive – its program to help restore critical seagrass habitat in Cockburn Sound.

Since 2018, Recfishwest has collaborated with OzFish and the University of Western Australia to restore seagrass meadows in Cockburn Sound, which are vital as a nursery ground for countless fish and species of marine life including pink snapper, King George whiting, herring, Western rock lobster, prawns, squid and blue swimmer crabs.

Now in it’s fifth year, Seeds for Snapper has already helped collect more than one million seeds in Cockburn Sound, but as volunteers are the driving force behind this project, Recfishwest is encouraging everyone to dig deep and help out by collecting the seeds or dispersing them.

By helping disperse these seeds through Cockburn Sound, you help create vast juvenile fish habitats. Photo courtesy of the OzFish website.

Watch OzFish’s video highlighting the importance of Cockburn Sound’s seagrass meadows here

The Seeds for Snapper program relies on community support from recreational anglers, divers, businesses and residents to help disperse the seeds, which are the key to helping rejuvenate juvenile fish habitats.

It is estimated that a single hectare of restored seagrass produces on average 207 kilograms of fish per year and stores 35 times more carbon than the same equivalent area of rainforest.

Over the last century, 85 per cent of these crucial seagrass meadows – equivalent to nearly 2,000 Optus Stadium-sized ovals – have been lost in Cockburn Sound.

With the Government recently proposing a shock eight to nine-month west coast demersal species ban per year and with the Government’s plans to build a new port in Cockburn Sound starting in 2027, the Seeds for Snapper program underpins why preserving the sustainability of these seagrass meadows is more important than ever.

“Cockburn Sounds seagrass meadows act as a nursery area for important species such as crabs, snapper, squid, whiting and garfish and supports the only known spawning aggregations of pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion, said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.

“Merely maintaining the status quo is not an option after the huge loss of seagrass habitat in the Sound over the years. It is vital, therefore, that initiatives like this are supported and boosted to help improve the environmental state of Cockburn Sound.

“The Sound’s protected waters on the doorstep of our capital city offer great land and boat-based fishing for fishers of all ages and abilities and fishers can play their part to by helping collect and disperse seagrass seeds and breathe more life into these vital nursery grounds.”

There are various ways you can help out with Seeds for Snapper, whether it’s on the shore, on the boats or in the water! Photo courtesy of the OzFish website.

There were more than 350 registered volunteers dedicating their time last year with the Seeds for Snapper program through a variety of roles, including as boat-based netters, qualified scuba and free divers, shore crews and as seagrass seed dispersal units.

The seagrass fruit harvesting and seed dispersal season will take place from November. Collection and dispersal days and times are subject to weather and tides, so if you want to take part in the fifth year of this great program, Recfishwest encourages volunteers to dig deep and register through the link below.

Sign up as a Seeds for Snapper 2022 volunteer here!

The Seeds for Snapper program is funded by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF) using your licence fees and is made possible by Recfishwest, OzFish, the University of Western Australia, the WA Government’s Recreational Fishing Initiative Fund, Water Corporation and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.

Proposed west coast demersal nine month ban? There is a better way.

Following last week’s shock announcement about the Government’s proposed nine-month west coast demersal scalefish ban, Recfishwest has written to Minister Punch. We have asked him to explain how the package of 17 recommendations we put forward in July did not meet the Government’s catch reduction targets.

Our recommendations were developed after months of hard work, working through the responses from the biggest recreational fishing survey in WA history and with months of considered input from our West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

READ THE PACKAGE OF WEST COAST DEMERSAL RECOMMENDATIONS WE MADE TO GOVERNMENT HERE 

Recfishwest has also asked the Minister to restore the public comment period back to six weeks as originally agreed, rather than the four that the Government has now made it.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “The Government’s current proposals largely ignored key recommendations put forward by Recfishwest – including a dhufish spawning closure during the peak spawning time. Instead, the Government is asking fishers to choose between two totally unacceptable options that will cause a huge amount of social pain and economic hardship.

“We worked in good faith over the last few months, yet after all the input from the community and the constructive solutions put forward, we learnt through the media that our package was deemed by the Minister to be insufficient to achieve the desired catch reductions. We have not been informed how each element of our package was assessed and exactly where the package was deemed to have fallen short of meeting the challenge set by the Minister.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – RECFISHWEST ON NINE NEWS

Recfishwest has already been contacted by hundreds of fishers concerned about the impact a nine-month closure will have on their way of life, as well as regional caravan park owners, charter operators and tackle shop owners who hold grave concerns about the future of their businesses if these proposals are implemented.

There is a better way

Andrew said, “Without question there is a better way to speed up the rebuilding of these fish stocks – which are not in ‘decline’ as has been suggested in the media. The fishery is clearly sustainable with DPIRD’s latest State of the Fisheries report classifying this fishery as ‘recovering at an acceptable rate’.

“Only giving fishers the choice between an eight or a nine-month ban is simply unacceptable, especially while we know our package will achieve the required outcomes with much less economic and social carnage. We have asked the Government to explain how our recommendations were assessed and where they fall short.”

What you can do

Recfishwest will continue to communicate with the fishing community on our course of action right through the consultation period and beyond.  Many people are asking how they contact their local MP to let them know how the proposals will impact them and their families. If you need tips on how to reach out to your local MP, our guidelines here should help.

“We appreciate your support and we’ll stand strong to protect your fishing experiences and the fish stocks upon which these experiences rely,” said Andrew.

Recfishwest rejects Government’s proposals to ban fishing for dhufish and pink snapper for up to nine months

Recfishwest is bitterly disappointed by today’s discussion paper released by the Government on the future of WA’s dhufish and snapper fishery.

The discussion paper has ignored key recommendations put forward by Recfishwest, including a spawning closure to protect dhufish and a properly funded voluntary fisheries adjustment scheme to ensure a long-overdue fairer restructure of the fishery.

Fishing for iconic fish like these is a key part of the WA lifestyle.

Recfishwest’s recommendations were developed following months of extensive consultation with the fishing community. Under the Government’s proposals, WA’s 40,000 west coast demersal scalefish fishers could be locked out of fishing for iconic recreational fishing species dhufish and pink snapper for nine months a year.

Read Recfishwest’s package of west coast demersal recommendations to Government here

Fast facts:

  • It’s more important than ever to get sustainable management right;
  • However the Government proposals fail to protect spawning dhufish, are inequitable and represent a “complete failure of fisheries policy;
  • 40,000 recreational fishers access the West Coast demersal scalefish fishery every year with WA recfishers spending $2.4 billion a year on fishing; and
  • 6,000 recreational fishers completed Recfishwest’s survey on the future of west coast demersal scalefish fishery to help develop Recfishwest’s recommendations to Government.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “The package of recommendations we made to Government was well balanced and focussed on protecting the sustainability of the fish while delivering the best social and economic benefits.

“Whereas, the Government’s discussion paper suggests constraining the recreational sector to a nine-month closure, while commercial fishing continues all year round – this is completely unacceptable to our sector.

“The opportunity to set this fishery on a secure pathway through proper reforms should not be missed and this discussion paper represents a complete failure of fisheries policy which destroys value rather than creates it.

“The Minister has an obligation to ensure a sustainable catch delivers the highest and best use to the community and we believe the primary management measures outlined in today’s discussion paper do not even come close to achieving this.

“We will be examining the consultation papers we only received today and provide the fishing community with our thoughts to assist them in providing a response.”

The future sustainability of west coast demersal scalefish must come first.

Annual Fishing Closure lifted: Rock Lobster Can Now Be Caught Year Round

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”.

Learn how to make your pots compliant by watching the video on You Tube here or on the Recfishwest Facebook Page.

Click here to view the updated rules

See the Ministers media release here: