West coast demersal changes – time to set right a broken fisheries policy with commercial licence buy-back scheme

From tomorrow (Wednesday 1 February) the west coast demersal fishery will be closed to recreational fishing until the end of March as part of new changes introduced by the Government in December (see below for more details about the rule changes).

Recfishwest called for this late summer closure as it coincides with part of the peak spawning period for dhufish and we are proud it is widely supported by our members and our Expert Working Group because we care passionately about the future of these fish.

However, we remain disappointed that the closure will not apply to all sectors with the commercial fishing industry able to continue to target spawning aggregations of dhufish during this period.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “If the Government truly cares about ensuring the sustainability of demersal fish between Augusta and Kalbarri, they need to explain why they do not support better protection for spawning dhufish.

“It’s yet another example of the fundamentally inequitable way this fishery has been managed for decades and it’s too important for old and embedded sectoral favouritism to continue to underpin management decisions.

“Fisheries management should ensure the greatest good is delivered to the greatest number from the sustainable catch of fish – that is simply not happening under the current regime with 64 per cent of the west coast demersal catch reserved for private profit.

“We need a fairer more equitable and sustainable approach, giving spawning dhufish more protection and fishing mums and dads more time out on the water to be able to optimise all the social, mental and well-being benefits fishing brings.”

HEAR WHAT ANDREW HAD TO SAY ON THE ABC REGIONAL DRIVE PROGRAM HERE

The Government claims there is no evidence that dhufish aggregate to spawn. This image and evidence from DPIRD’s own research scientists suggest otherwise. Video still: @fbk3lly YouTube channel.

Commercial licence buy-back scheme details must be thrashed out as soon as possible

Recfishwest will always support action to ensure sustainability but shutting out 700,000 West Aussies from being able to catch dhufish and pink snapper for six months of the year is an unnecessary overreach.

Part of the $10 million package put forward by the Fisheries Minister to support the west coast demersal changes included a yet-to-be specified amount to be allocated to a Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme (VFAS) to offer commercial operators fair and reasonable compensation to voluntarily exit the fishery.

“We need the Government to thrash out the details and progress the VFAS as quickly as possible,” said Dr Rowland. “There is a great opportunity here for the Government to put right an outdated and broken fisheries policy that places profit before the public good.

“We need a comprehensive and transparent buy-back scheme that can assure the community that every tax-payer’s dollar spent on it is delivering the best return through a sustainably and equitably managed system in line with the harvest strategy for this fishery.”

Changes to the west coast demersal rules – 1 February 2023

The free upgraded Recfishwest app contains all the fishing rules at your fingertips including outside of mobile range. You can download the app for free on the App and Google Play stores.

The new demersal rules will go live in the new app from Wednesday when they come into effect – in the meantime see below for the rule changes in full.

Annual demersal fishing closed seasons in the West Coast Bioregion:

– 1 February to 31 March (to 28 March in 2024 to accommodate Easter) (inclusive);

– 1 August to the beginning of the September/October school holidays (22 September 2023); and

– end of the September/October school holidays (9 October 2023) to 15 December (inclusive).

Note: this does not apply to land-based line fishers, charter fishers, or commercial fishers.

  • Bag limit of two WA dhufish within the mixed species bag limit of two demersal scalefish in the West Coast Bioregion.
  • Demersal scalefish boat limit of four (excludes charter boats).
  • Remove the WA dhufish boat limit.
  • Remove size limits for WA dhufish, baldchin groper and breaksea cod.
  • A maximum of one bait or lure attached to a line can be used when fishing for demersal scalefish in the West Coast Bioregion.
  • Extend the timing of the pink snapper spawning closure in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds from 1 August to 31 January (inclusive).
  • Realign the baldchin groper spawning closure at the Abrolhos Islands from 1 October to 31 December (inclusive).

Abrolhos Islands: The Abrolhos Island Fish Habitat Protection Area is being managed as a Wilderness Fishing Area to allow visitors to experience unique marine-based activities, while appreciating a sense of remoteness, amenity and lifestyle.

The following changes to bag and possession limits provide for low take, low takeaway recreational fishing at the Abrolhos Islands while also contributing to the recovery of demersal scalefish stocks in the West Coast Bioregion;

  • bag limit of one demersal scalefish and three large pelagic finfish;
  • possession limit of:

– 5kg of fillets from any species, plus 5kg of fillets from large pelagic finfish (must have skin attached for identification purposes); OR

– one day’s bag limit of whole fish.

Recreational boat fishers will next be able to drop a line for west coast demersal species such as pink snapper from 1 April until the start of the September/October school holidays.

 

Calls for new Feb/March peak dhufish spawning closure to apply all sectors

Fishing for bottom fish in the West Coast Bioregion has begun and many will be able to enjoy the quintessential West Aussie experience of getting out on the water fishing with families and friends and catching a top-quality feed of dhufish, baldies or snapper.

Under the recently announced management changes, fishers will have six weeks to enjoy their fishing until a new February-March closure comes into effect coinciding with part of the peak dhufish spawning period.

Recfishwest recommended better protection of spawning dhufish as part of measures to speed up the recovery after receiving thousands of fishers’ views and advice from our West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

The strong support for this measure has reflected on the level of care fishers have for these iconic fish.

Click here to see how you can play your part in ensuring a better future for west coast demersals

Fisheries Management 101 – protecting spawning fish

The February/March closure will only apply to recreational fishers with many in the fishing community questioning the logic of this closure not applying to all sectors.

The only reason publicly given for this decision appears on a frequently asked questions document on the Fisheries website, which says, “A targeted spawning closure for dhufish is not proposed as there are currently no known large spawning aggregations of dhufish in the West Coast Bioregion. Targeted spawning closures benefit species that aggregate in some form and experience higher catchability during peak spawning compared to outside the spawning period.

CEO Dr Andrew Rowland has highlighted the apparent inconsistency between this statement, multiple pieces of scientific research and fishers’ experience.

“Given every fisher knows dhufish aggerate to spawn over summer and there are numerous published studies by the Department’s own scientific experts that confirm the existence of these aggregations, this response makes little sense,” said Dr Rowland. “Just because dhufish aggregations are not as big as snapper aggregations in Cockburn Sound, it does not mean they are any less important.”

Fisheries scientists freely admit dhufish form spawning aggregations and suggest they are more vulnerable to fishing activity during this time. For example, a 2014 study by leading Fisheries scientists stated “… commercial fishing for West Australian dhufish in the South-West area occurs largely on fish that are aggregating to spawn in a relatively restricted part of that management area in the austral summer”. This is just one of many peer-reviewed scientific references supporting the existence of dhufish aggregations.

“If the Government truly cares about ensuring the sustainability of demersal fish between Augusta and Kalbarri, they need to explain why they do not support better protection for spawning dhufish,” said Dr Rowland.

“The efforts of recreational fishers to give spawning dhufish a break will be largely wasted if the Government continues to allow others to target these same fish.

“This issue points to a fundamental inequity in the way this fishery has been managed for decades and it’s too important for old and embedded sectoral favouritism to continue to underpin management decisions.

“As a sector with a strong track-record in safeguarding fish stocks for the future and in driving fish spawning closures – we have a right to expect clarity on why aggregations of snapper and baldchin should be protected, but aggregations of dhufish shouldn’t.

“We will continue to make this case to the Government and ensure that the commercial licence buy-back scheme announced by the Minister is implemented quickly, efficiently and in a way that can at last meet community expectations of equitable management.”

Government’s six-month west coast demersal ban an unreasonable, unnecessary overreach

Recfishwest is deeply disappointed by the Fisheries Minister’s decision to impose a six-month ban on west coast demersal fishing.

Recfishwest has always supported action but shutting out 700,000 West Australians from being able to catch dhufish and pink snapper for six months of the year is completely unnecessary.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Our sector has a strong-track record in putting the fish first and we agree there needs to be some changes to help stocks continue to rebuild.

“We presented clear, science-backed alternative proposals to Government which would have reduced recfishers’ catches by 50 per cent, met sustainability targets and allowed people the freedom to spend more time fishing with families and friends.

“Yet, the Minister has decided on extended bans for the recreational fishing sector and has put commercial profit over the public good with the lion’s share of this fishery given to a small number of commercial operators.

“Today’s announcement restricts recreational fishers to an annual catch of 115t, a reduction of more than 50% on current catches, while commercial operators will be able to catch 240t, a reduction of only 12% on current catches.”

Recfishwest’s proposals were developed during months of consultation with the recreational fishing community and a specially convened West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

One of these proposals aimed at speeding up the rebuilding of demersal fish stocks included a closure during the dhufish spawning period.

“The fact that this closure will not apply to the commercial fishing industry does not reflect best practice fisheries management,” said Dr Rowland.

“Recfishwest also called for a buy-back of commercial fishing licences and welcomes this element of the Minister’s package.

“A commercial licence buy-back will help deliver a fairer, more equitable outcome which will deliver the greatest benefits for the greatest number in the community.

“The Government has a golden opportunity to fix a broken and outdated fisheries policy by ensuring the prompt and effective implementation of this buy-back and reduce its ill-advised six-month ban.”

West Coast Demersal Update – October 21

Recfishwest is continuing to work closely with the Government towards a package for west coast demersal fish that can ensure there will be fish for the future while keeping fishers on the water.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Government is at the table with us. We have put our position strongly to them and that has been received. It is fair to say this is genuine consultation, that no decision has yet been made and that there has been some constructive discussions.”

Key elements of Recfishwest’s west coast demersal package

  • Increased spawning protection for fish, particularly dhufish, from 20 January to 20 March
  • The fishery being closed for a total of 4.5 months.
  • A wide range of other measures including reviewing size limits, better fishing practices education and increasing gear restrictions
  • Better data collection and science including real time recreational fishing data collection, better understanding of the shark bite-off issue and a better understanding of the potential effectiveness of stocking of species like snapper and dhufish.

Find out more about Recfishwest’s west coast demersal package presented to the Government here

“Core to our package is increased spawning protection for demersal fish, particularly dhufish, along with a Term 3 closure,” said Andrew, “This would amount to the fishery being closed for around four-and-a-half months and would be in addition to a range of other measures we have proposed aimed at reducing mortality of these fish.”

Giving increased spawning protection for demersal species, particularly dhufish, is a cornerstone of the Recfishwest west coast demersal package put forward to Government.

Listen to an interview here with Andrew on Karl Langdon’s 6PR Fishing Show about the west coast demersal issue

Following the ongoing discussions, Recfishwest understands a decision on the final west coast demersal package will be announced by the Government in early to mid-November.

Andrew said, “It’s really important to understand we are focussed on sustainability and that is what our package does. We are doing what needs to be done in terms of reducing fish mortality, while allowing people to spend more time on the water avoiding an eight or nine-month closure.”

Andrew said the response up to this point from the recreational fishing community has been “absolutely fantastic.”

“We really want to thank everyone for their genuine support,” he said.  “It’s brought home to us just how deeply people care about these fish. People are happy to play their role but believe there is a better way.”

Banner image courtesy of Daiwa and Fishes of Australia website.

West coast demersal update

Recfishwest continues to work with DPIRD, the Fisheries Minister and the State Government towards a sensible outcome that ensures west coast demersal fish stocks continue to recover without wrecking the lifestyle and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of WA fishers. 

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland met with the Fisheries Minister, Don Punch, last week and had a “frank, but constructive” conversation around the Government’s proposals – further discussions have also taken place with DPIRD fisheries managers around our alternative proposals.  

“I reiterated our sector’s commitment to sustainability and our opposition to a nine-month ban when there are alternative effective measures available,” said Andrew, “The meeting with the Minister was frank, but the communication lines appear to be now open. While the official public consultation period is over, we have received assurances from Government that no decisions have been made. The Minster also told Parliament he has committed to re-discussing the issue with Recfishwest prior to any decision being made.  

“We are continuing to meet with DPIRD and we’re pleased that the conversation is continuing. We’re having discussions around solutions that put the fish first, while delivering a more balanced outcome than the Government’s initial nine-month proposal.

“As WA’s not for profit, independent peak sector recfishing body, it’s really important that Recfishwest continues to impress upon Government that the 700,000-plus West Aussie fishers we represent, who spend $2.4 billion on fishing every year, is too important as a sector to neglect.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland was recently on the road visiting tackle store crews from Geraldton down to Augusta to discuss their concerns and views on the west coast demersal issue.

A loud and clear message from the WA fishing community 

Andrew spent the previous week out on the road talking to local fishing club members and tackle store owners from Geraldton to Augusta. The Recfishwest team also had a big presence at this year’s Perth Boat show and we would like to thank the thousands of fishers who came and gave us their support. 

“What we continue to hear from our community hammers home the level of concern there is out there about the future of our fishing lifestyle, community life and associated small businesses.  

“It also highlighted how united our community is in finding a better way to speed up the recovery of the fish stocks without the social and economic fall-out of a nine-month demersal ban. The Government needs to understand this.” 

“The messages we have received loud and clear from fishers, fishing clubs and businesses is everyone cares deeply about sustainability, supports protection of fish during peak spawning times and are happy to support science-backed rule changes. There is also great concern about fair and equitable sharing of publicly-owned fish stocks and the lack of consideration given to the social and economic impacts of management proposals.”   

The online petition is another example of just how much the fishing community’s oppose the Government’s proposals. At nearly 18,000 signatures, it is the biggest online Parliamentary petition in WA history! There’s still time to sign it if you haven’t already done so, but be quick as we hear it is planned to be tabled in Parliament next week. 

How’s this for a show of strength! Lancelin Angling and Aquatic Club showing how united they are on this issue.

What you can do 

While the official community public consultation is over, the Government is yet to make a decision – so you can still make your views known by: 

  1. Contacting your local MP and let them know how the proposals will impact you and your family. Find tips on how to reach out here.  
  2. Calling your local talk back radio station and let listeners know what fishing means for you and your family. 6PR and ABC mornings are great places to start in Perth. 
  3. Writing aletter to the West Australian newspaper - all letters must be SIGNED and include the writer’s full-name, address (not postal) and telephone number.   
  4. Sign the petition if you haven’t already and encourage your family and mates to do the same. 
  5. Become Recfishwest membersto show recfishers are united in support a more sensible outcome.  

Let’s keep working together to make sure the Government continues to listen – our collective voice must be heard!  

(Banner image sourced from Daiwa and Fishin Wishin Life)

 (Feature image sourced from Ozfish website)

Recfishwest continues to call on Government to adopt a more sensible approach to west coast demersals

Following the Government’s proposed nine-month ban on fishing for more than 100 demersal species from Augusta to Kalbarri, the call for an alternative – including a dhufish spawning closure – continues to build in the fishing community.

Recfishwest has been communicating with thousands of fishers concerned about the impact a nine-month closure will have on them and their families, as well as regional caravan park owners, charter operators and tackle shop owners who hold very real concerns about the future of their businesses.

Coral trout will be one of the iconic species to come under the nine-month ban from Kalbarri to Augusta if the Government’s proposal goes through. Photo: Al McGlashan.

Fishing clubs, who have been a central part of their communities’ social fabric for generations, have told Recfishwest the Government’s proposal will force them to close their doors.

The current proposals will also bankrupt genuine long-term charter fishing operators, depriving the community of great fishing and tourism experiences.

“We are all committed to the sustainability of this great fishery,”  said recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “We have a strong, extensive track record in supporting dhufish and snapper conservation including tagging programs, release weight research and subsequent legislation, snapper spawning closures, released fish survival projects, investments in shark deterrents and the Snapper Guardians program,”

“Recfishwest knows there is a better way to speed up the rebuilding of these fish stocks without the massive social and economic damage, which is why we reject the Government’s proposed nine-month ban.”

Good friend of Recfishwest and editor of Western Angler Magazine, Scott Coghlan, summed up the Government’s proposals on the front page of this week’s Albany Advertiser, “It’s like using a chainsaw to fillet a herring,” he said.

It’s been great to hear from so many of our members who, supporting our efforts, want to know what they can do to help.

What you can do – ask the Government to adopt a more sensible approach

Encourage your family, friends and fishing mates to:

  1. Sign the parliamentary petition to voice your opposition to DPIRD’s proposed nine-month ban. You can find the petition here – more than 10,000 people have already signed – make sure you add your name and encourage anyone you know to do the same.
  2.  Contact your local Member of Parliament and let them know how the proposals will impact you and your family. If you need tips on how to reach out to your local MP, our guidelines here will help.
  3. Encourage your family and friends to join Recfishwest – send a clear message that recreational fishers are united in supporting a more sensible outcome. They can join through this link here.
Come and see Recfishwest at the Perth Boat Show next week from Friday 16 September to Sunday, 18 September.

The better way – in case you missed it 

A WA fishing community record survey of nearly 6,000 respondents also helped inform the package of recommendations.

The package was well balanced and focused on protecting the sustainability and spawning of the fish while delivering the best social and economic benefits, along with better fishing rules, enhanced education and more research.

The story has attracted more media attention than any other fishery-related issue in recent times, reflecting just how important this fishery is to the Western Australian way of life.

Read some of the articles that have featured in the media on the west coast demersal issue here. 

We hugely value your support – and we’ll keep working hard to protect these fish as well as all the benefits this fishery provides to so many West Australians.

An update on the west coast demersal scalefish issue

Yesterday (30 August) Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland wrote to our members via our Members First e-newsletter to provide them with an update on the west coast demersal issue. We’ve published the newsletter in full below.

If you would like to get all of our Members First e-newsletters sent directly to your inbox to ensure you are right up to speed with all the important fishing developments in WA, click here to become a Recfishwest member today!

___________________________________

The Minister for Fisheries announced on Tuesday  that he would extend the consultation period on the Government’s proposal to implement bans on the west coast demersal fishery back out to six weeks.

This extension comes after we wrote to the Minister seeking a reinstatement of the original agreed timeframe. We welcome the additional consultation period.

We continue to meet with senior members of Government to advocate on this issue to make sure your interests are being represented at the highest level.

We are committed to making sure decision-makers recognise there is a better way to speed up the recovery of these fish without destroying fishing clubs, businesses and all the benefits our sector provides to the WA community and economy.

Hopefully, this latest development allows time for the Government and Recfishwest to have a proper discussion on the package of recommendations developed through our Expert Working Group process that was presented to DPIRD (Fisheries) in July.

We firmly believe each element of our package when combined can meet the catch reduction targets required while avoiding the catastrophic loss of value under the current DPIRD proposals.

We want to walk DPIRD through our recommended package and have a detailed discussion around our calculations, which we haven’t been given the opportunity to do to date.

In case you missed it – former Recfishwest CEO Frank Prokop and Ash Ramm from Tackle World Miami discuss the proposed nine-month ban on Channel Seven’s Flashpoint Show.  

Truth a casualty in this process

Last Friday, DPIRD’s Catch e-newsletter sent out to tens of thousands of recreational fishers stated:

“DPIRD has considered feedback and preferred management tools from Recfishwest, the WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) and Marine Tourism WA, and developed targeted management packages for the recreational, charter and commercial sectors.”

We have had clear feedback and concern from our members that this statement implicates Recfishwest in providing support for the current proposed eight or nine-month demersal fishing bans.

This is simply not the case and we would like to set the record straight.

Recfishwest, with the considered input of our Expert Working Group, provided a set of 17 recommendations in July to help inform the current consultation process.  An eight or nine-month west coast demersal fishing closure was never part of these recommendations.

As we have publicly stated a number of times, we believe, as a package, our recommendations will meet the catch reduction targets without the devastating social and economic impact the current DPIRD proposals will have if implemented.

Recfishwest expects all dealings with Government departments to be transparent and, in accordance with this principle, we’ve published all the outcomes of our engagements along the way.

Recfishwest hopes to continue to have an open and trusting relationship with Government stakeholders to protect the interests of the recreational fishing community. Our autonomy on these matters is not negotiable – we operate in these processes in good faith and we will not be pushed into choosing between two unacceptable options.

Stewardship of our fisheries – a shared responsibility between Government and the fishing community

Under the current collaborative co-management model, certain responsibilities for supporting great fishing outcomes are shared between DPIRD and Recfishwest.

Under these arrangements, accountability and responsibility for outcomes is also shared.

Recfishwest, fishing clubs, the fishing trade, the boating industry, and marine tourism businesses do much of the heavy lifting in creating better fishing opportunities and delivering stewardship programs.

In recent times, we have found ourselves frustrated that DPIRD’s regulatory and management functions often do not understand or support the needs of the recfishing sector.

If we are truly to progress with modern recreational fisheries management, it’s time for DPIRD to look at the way they allocate their available resources and provide recreational fishers with support commensurate with our $2.4 billion sector which directly involves a third of the WA community.

Blunt tools

In the current situation DPIRD has simply reached for the bluntest tool in their management toolbox. Given the catastrophic impact a nine-month ban will have on so many families, tackle stores, charter operators and local businesses in popular coastal communities, we are surprised we cannot see any apparent consideration of these impacts within the development of these management proposals.

We believe the current proposed bans tick every box for an assessment through the Government’s Better Regulation Program. A simple Regulatory Impact Statement would highlight other management options that can provide the same protection for fish stocks while delivering a greater net benefit to the community.

Understanding the true impact of these proposals is a critical step in informing the Minister’s decision.

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, but ‘recovering at an acceptable rate’ according to the Government’s own fisheries experts.

We are pleased to see the Minister take measures to begin to resolve this issue and we look forward to discussing reasonable and more innovative solutions that will achieve the required outcomes with much less economic and social damage.

Given the level of angst in the fishing community at the prospect of the damage caused by a nine-month ban, some members of our sector have started a petition to Parliament calling on Government to review DPIRD’s proposals. You can find the petition here.

To all the fishing clubs, tackle stores, charter operators and boating businesses who have reached out to us over the past week with fears that these proposals will force you to shut your doors for good – stay strong. We’re in your corner.

Dr Andrew Rowland
Recfishwest CEO

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.