West coast demersal closure from 1 February – recfishers leading by example

From Thursday, 1 February, the west coast demersal fishery between Kalbarri and Augusta will be closed until 29 March (Good Friday) to recfishers.  

It’s great to see recfishers play their part in the recovery of these treasured fish by giving them a break for a couple of months. 

It’s a particularly important time to give dhufish a rest as the closure coincides with their peak spawning period. 

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “This late summer closure was something that Recfishwest, the West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group and grassroots members of the fishing community called for. 

“This was because protecting spawning dhufish helps replenish the stock and speeds up the recovery. Furthermore, protecting spawning fish is the right thing to do and simply makes sense. It’s great to see recreational fishers get behind the closure, because it shows how much our community cares about these special fish.  

“Unfortunately, the closure does not apply across all sectors and we think it should. 

“In good news though, the Government took on board our call for the west coast demersal fishery to reopen coinciding with Easter. This year this means fishing mums and dads will be able to get out and fish for bottom fish again on Good Friday on 29 March, giving them a chance to catch a quality, fresh demersal for their Easter dinner.”  

Although the demersal season is closing for two months, it doesn’t mean you have to stop fishing – there are so many other great fishing options to explore in the region, whether it’s chasing yellowtail kingfish on nearshore reefs, trolling for tuna, targeting squid and whiting or beach fishing for tailor and mulloway – it’s a great time to try some new tactics and widen your fishing activities.  

“While the demersal fishing has been great over the past couple of months, many recfishers have thoroughly enjoyed the red hot pelagic and inshore fishing on offer and that option is still available to us,” said Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett.  

“The FADs continue to fire for dolphinfish and wahoo, there’s various whiting species across the shallow sand and weed patches, you can troll for tuna, drop a net for blue swimmer crabs in the rivers and inlets, flick a squid jig out for some delicious calamari or visit our South-West to target various freshwater species – we’re very lucky to have so many options available to us.”

Dolphinfish and tuna have been regularly caught at the FADs off the WA coast, squid are plentiful over the shallow weed beds and delicious whiting are easy to catch over the inshore sand patches – to name a few options!

Want to keep up to date with what’s being caught and where during the February-March closure? Sign up as a Recfishwest member to receive our free weekly State-wide fishing report!

Join our cast of thousands and stand up for fishing in the challenges that lie ahead

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland takes a look back at a year of intensive activity by the peak recfishing sector body and how we can meet the challenges ahead for fishing and reap the opportunities.

“It’s been an intensive year for Recfishwest with several issues and developments requiring concerted advocacy efforts to achieve better outcomes for WA’s 700,000-plus strong fishing community.

The biggest issue impacting on a large proportion of the fishing community was of course the Government’s proposals to introduce a nine-month ban on west coast demersal fishing.

We shared the dismay of fishers at this proposal and were not surprised to see the huge backlash it prompted.

We strongly advised the Government that a ban of this length would have a devastating impact on our fishing way of life and all the benefits derived from time on the water shared with mums, dads, kids and mates and the opportunity to catch a quality bottom fish for dinner.

Furthermore, it was clear a hefty ban of this size would be a wrecking ball through many of the coastal family businesses reliant on fishing tourism in towns like Jurien Bay.

Recfishwest will continue to advocate for the best result for West Aussie fishers that accomplishes great sustainability for demersals while balancing enjoyable fishing experiences.

Advocating for a better way for demersals

On one thing we emphatically agreed with the Government, though, the sustainability of these treasured West Aussie fish must come first. Our sector has a strong-track record in putting the fish first – no one cares more about these fish than we do. This was evidenced by the strong appetite articulated by the near to 6,000 fishers who took our west coast demersal survey for a cross sector closure for dhufish coinciding with the fish’s peak spawning period.

The alternative package Recfishwest put forward to DPIRD with the input of our expert working group would have met sustainability targets, provided spawning protection for dhufish while keeping fishing families on the water for longer throughout the year.

Although disappointed by the final outcome, we were able to get the Government to roll back the closure of the fishery to six months and commit to a $10 million fishing support package, which included funding an extensive education program and to funding the Statewide FADs program for the next three years.

We welcomed these commitments – having a Government-backed Statewide FADs program following the successful pilot program we ran with clubs and the community funded by fishing licence money, is undoubtedly a good result for the medium to large boat fishers.

Critically, in the support package, $2.5 million of public money was earmarked for a Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme (VFAS), which will offer commercial operators fair and reasonable compensation to voluntarily exit the fishery.

This is a golden opportunity to set right a broken fisheries policy as it could potentially pave the way for a fairer and more equitable sharing of overall sustainable catch between recreational, charter and commercial fishing sectors. Subsequently, we are keenly awaiting the VFAS outcome at the time of writing this article.

Fishing provides such a huge range of mental, physical and social wellbeing benefits and these experiences need to be protected through adequate fishing access when it comes to marine parks.

Highlighting the value of fishing

The debate around managing these community-owned fish stocks, and other challenges such as the proposed new marine park on the south coast and the extension to Marmion Marine Park, has highlighted to us that decision-makers do not often understand or take into account the importance and value of fishing to the WA lifestyle and culture.

The objective of fisheries management is to optimise the social and economic benefits from our publicly-owned fish stocks – this is enshrined in law within the State’s Fisheries Act.

Recent experiences, however, suggest the social and economic value that fishing provides is not adequately considered when it comes to important fisheries management decisions.

That is why we have launched our Cast of Thousands Campaign to celebrate and elevate the recognition of the importance of fishing to the WA lifestyle and culture into the awareness of decision-makers, politicians, and the broader WA community.

Working with our creative partners Lateral Aspect, we developed three advertisements featuring three fishing personalities – Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan, former pole-vaulting world champion, fishing presenter and Recfishwest Board member Emma George, and Katlyn Yeeda – aka ‘the Derby Jetty Queen.’

You’ve probably seen them already, but each ad being rolled out through multiple media platforms across the State highlights how fishing gives hundreds of thousands of West Australians the opportunity to relax, enjoy enhanced well-being and mental health, social interaction with family and friends, connection with nature and ultimately a lot of fun!

We’re also reaching a broader audience through the campaign explaining Recfishwest’s role in championing the rights and interests of 700,000 West Aussie recfishers, sustainability, fishing safety, research and the environment, as well as most importantly keeping the fun in fishing.

The overarching purpose of the campaign is a rallying cry to the grassroots of our hugely diverse community to unite under one banner to continue to protect what’s most important to all of us fishers.

Recfishwest was pleased to see the herring bag limit increase from 12 to 20 in October 2022 after their great stock recovery, to the benefit of West Aussie fishers such as Sonja Dobbe in Albany.

Great community outcomes through successful fisheries management

When decision-makers factor in the huge benefits fishing brings to our community, the results are dramatic. Not only beneficial to enhancing fishing experiences, but also to ensuring abundant and resilient fish stocks as well as healthy habitats and environment.

In this vein, it’s been really pleasing to see the strong recovery of herring – the people’s fish – resulting in the increase of the bag limit of 12 to 20 fish for these great accessible fish enjoyed by fishers of all ages and abilities.

More than 4,000 fishers provided Recfishwest their views through our bag limit survey showing how passionately people care about herring.

Crucially, being in a position to substantially increase the bag limit without any threat to the future abundance of herring stocks followed the Government’s commitment to prioritise herring for recreation and consumption purposes in line with ensuring the highest and best use of the fishery under the Fisheries Act.

Similarly, we were pleased with the results of the latest salmon stock assessment which showed salmon are bigger, more abundant and resistant to environmental change than they have been in decades.

The stock assessment showed that individual salmon are older, larger and around in much higher numbers now than they were 10 to 15 years ago because of a reduction in commercial fishing pressure.

The science confirmed what we have been seeing in recent seasons coming through in catches with 90-cm plus fish to near metre-long fish caught on a more regular basis.

Furthermore, such a healthy population of salmon results in a stock that is much more resilient to environmental change and future predictions of greater fluctuations in oceanographic conditions.

This is a management success story. We have abundant stocks that are continuing to flourish, full of large adult fish, well prepared for a changing climate and a salmon fishery that is enjoyed tens of thousands, creating more than $330 million of economic activity annually throughout the southern coastal regions of WA.

If that doesn’t show the massive value derived by our community from fish stocks managed to optimise social and economic benefits, then I don’t know what does!

Cast of Thousands ambassador and ‘Derby Jetty Queen’ Katlyn Yeeda along with hundreds of thousands more West Aussies love fishing off jetties and Recfishwest will fight for better land-based structures and fishing access to the benefit of recfishers. 

Investing in infrastructure to put the fun in fishing

Just as healthy fish stocks are critical to the quality of fishing we are able to enjoy in WA, so too is maintaining and enhancing fishing access – structures like jetties provide fishing platforms for coastal towns like Busselton and are hugely popular with community members and visitors alike.

You only need to look at the popularity of Kaytlyn Yeeda’s Derby jetty Queen’s Facebook page to see how these structures become a centre point for passionate fishing communities like Derby.

That is why will be working intensively over the next year to develop recommendations, in line with the Fishing Development Plan the Government committed to, in upgrading and expanding the State’s fishing infrastructure, including jetties and boat ramps.

We are also working as hard as ever in the creation of new enhanced habitat in the form of artificial reefs to support safe and accessible fishing as well as more productive fisheries. Currently we are progressing more than 10 new reef proposals for coastal communities including Albany, Kalbarri, Carnarvon, Karratha/Dampier, Port Hedland and Broome.

Join Recfishwest’s cast of thousands today

Our purpose as the peak sector body is to great fishing experiences for all in the WA community forever. We have an outstanding record of achievements in supporting the sustainability of fish species and their habitat and representing the rights and interests of West Australian fishers. Our ability to advocate on behalf of our members and WA fishing is amplified by the massive support we receive from passionate members, partners and business supporters to whom we are truly grateful.

However, as I write this article, there are many challenges we face now and in the months ahead.  So, if you’re not already a member, I’d strongly encourage you to join Recfishwest to help further strengthen our collective voice as a sector it’s free or $10 for premium membership – jump on our website for more details. If you are a member, I encourage you to continue to rally alongside us under the fishing banner, get your family and mates on board too and stand up for this way of life we all love.”

Click here to become a Recfishwest member and if you do so by before 15 December, you’ll go in the running for seven amazing fishing prizes!

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.

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

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.


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.”


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.