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

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.

Good signs of recovery for west coast demersal scalefish but we’re not out of the woods yet

With this week marking the lifting of the west coast demersal closure, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) have released the latest stock assessment science.

We hope those of you who have already headed out to try and bag yourself a dhuie, pinkie or a baldie have managed to get amongst ‘em.

It’s been 10 years since wholesale rule changes were brought in to recover some of these species after all the research showed the stocks were in strife. Since those changes were implemented, recfishers have played our part – a big part – in sticking to the rules designed to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the catch from 2005/6 levels and recover these slow-growing species’ stocks within a 20-year timeframe.

Now we are at the recovery plan’s mid-way point, the Department have released a west coast demersal update based on their latest research.

READ DPIRD’S WEST COAST DEMERSAL RECOVERY RESEARCH SUMMARY HERE

Good stewardship pays off

It will come as no surprise to many of us who target bottom fish in the metro and the South West that there are some good signs with many more, smaller dhuies being seen in the last few years. This is certainly grounds for cautious optimism, showing that our good work and stewardship, sticking to bag and size limits, and the annual two-month closure, is paying off.

However, we’re not out of the woods yet with the research showing limited evidence of recovery for demersal scalefish stocks in the Mid-West and Kalbarri areas. In addition, there appears to be few older dhuies and pinkies in the Department’s samples from across the whole bioregion (Kalbarri down to Augusta).

This shows there is still away to go and, while the recovery is progressing well, we need to keep doing what we’re doing to ensure the recovery stays on track.

That means doing everything we can to ensure released fish go back healthily. Barotrauma can impact on these species significantly, with the research summary showing that ‘post-release mortality’ – fish dying after being released – is potentially having an impact on the recovery.

So, it’s imperative to handle the fish carefully and use release weights to give them the best chance of going back well, if returning them.

It also highlights why catch and release fishing for demersals is not OK and once you’ve hit your bag limit, it’s important to move on and target other species like pelagics and squid.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHY CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING FOR DEMERSALS IS NOT OK HERE

Taking stock

Clearly, the Department needs to keep gathering scientific evidence to monitor the recovery’s progress.  And this is also where we can all play a big part by donating some of our demersal frames to the Department’s Send Us Your Skeletons sampling program.

The more samples the scientists get – the clearer and more robust picture they can build of the stocks’ health. So do the right thing by the fish and help the Department collect more samples by donating some of your frames to science (you can keep the wings and the cheeks – they just need the heads and the guts intact).

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT’S SEND US YOUR SKELETONS PROGRAM

So, we hope you get to bag a demersal or two for Christmas – but let’s continue to work together to ensure the recovery continues to progress and that there will be plenty of these fantastic fish to go at for us and for future generations of West Aussie fishers.

Update on the West Coast Roe’s abalone fishery in WA

The west coast Roe’s abalone stock has gone through some tough times over the past decade and is currently managed under a recovery plan. Recfishwest recently met with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (Fisheries Department) to get an update on the status of abalone stocks. Abalone population surveys are undertaken annually and can tell us if our efforts are leading to a recovery.

Some points to note from the latest research information include:

  • The cooler water temperature over the last three years (2016-2019) has resulted in good recruitment with lots of smaller abalone starting to show on the reef tops.
  • The cooler water temperature has also resulted in increased growth of abalone meaning they are reaching legal size quicker (abalone generally take three-four years to reach legal size, i.e. 60mm).
  • Conservative management and favourable weather conditions over the last few years has meant Roe’s abalone stocks are slowly returning to a healthy fishery.
West Coast Roe’s abalone are a popular target among many fishers, especially in the metro.
Fishing for abalone is only one of the great hands-on fishing experiences available in WA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although this latest research shows abalone haven’t yet recovered enough to increase bag limits or fishing days, the good news is things are moving in the right direction. The next management changes are more likely to be positive, although we shouldn’t expect these changes for a year or two.

It’s important we all play a role in assisting with the recovery of these stocks by understanding and respecting management that is looking to improve the future of these iconic species. You can find out about the current abalone rules here.

Fishing for abalone is one of the great hands-on fishing experiences available in WA. Even though the metropolitan Roe’s abalone fishery is currently under recovery, it’s fantastic to know this fishery has some of the most innovative and proactive management of any of WA’s fisheries.

So what caused the problem with the stock in the first place?

Our abalone fishery is a critically important fishery!

The 2010/11 marine heatwave has been linked to changes in many fisheries for almost a decade and there is no doubt this extreme weather event had a devastating impact on Roe’s abalone stocks.

Following this heatwave, abalone numbers in the Geraldton to Kalbarri area suffered an almost total collapse and the number of juvenile abalone on our metropolitan nearshore reefs also suffered badly. This meant tough decisions had to be made to prevent the collapse of the fishery. The fishery north of Moore River was closed in 2011 and in 2014 the bag limit for Roe’s abalone was cut from 20 to 15.

In 2015 there was a reduction of fishing days from five to four to ensure the recreational catch did not exceed 20t, making this four-hour fishery the shortest recreational fishery in the world.

 

Dhufish Boat Limit to Remain at Two

The iconic Dhufish remains a favourite species for West Aussie fishers, as tens of thousands of us hit the water each summer in an attempt to snare one of these magnificent fish. Despite their popularity, concerns have been raised for the sustainability of Dhufish stocks and strict regulations on bag and boat limits have been in place alongside the annual demersal closure to protect recovering stocks.

In the September issue Recfishwest’s Broad Cast, we brought you an update on Recfishwest’s request, on the back of multiple requests from the community, for a review of the boat limit on Dhufish which currently sits at two.

Given the slow growth of this iconic fish, this is not a decision we took lightly, but was prompted after recent anecdotal reports from fishers indicating that the resource was recovering well, including a high abundance of juvenile fish not seen for many years. Current recreational catches are well below the sustainability target level set for an adequate recovery, in fact recreational take had reduced by 62% since 2009 when management was introduced to reduce the catch by half.

We were pleased to report in September that the Department of Fisheries had agreed to review our request once the most recent stock assessment information was available. Unfortunately the full stock assessment for Dhufish has been delayed, and is now expected to be available in mid-2017, however a preliminary assessment of WA Dhufish was undertaken to assist in evaluating potential changes to the boat limit.

In late November, preliminary information from the stock assessment was available and although Recfishwest’s calculations indicated the recreational take will remain below the sustainability target with an increased boat limit to three Dhufish, the assessment indicated that the stock may be recovering more slowly than expected in the northern and metropolitan areas of the West Coast Bioregion.

The Department of Fisheries made the decision that the rate of recovery was not sufficient enough to allow an increase in the boat limit at this time.  This news will be disappointing to some fishers, however, in the face of current uncertainties, Recfishwest does not support a change to rules that may put the recovery of this iconic species at risk. It is important to understand that Recfishwest will only support management changes when there is clear evidence of sufficient Dhufish stock recovery, and with confidence that any changes will not compromise future sustainability.

Additional analysis of the status of WA Dhufish will be completed as part of the full assessment of West Coast demersal scalefish due to be delivered in mid- 2017. This full assessment will include more complex stock assessment analysis than what was possible at the time of the preliminary assessment and will further inform any potential management changes.

The full assessment will also include the results of the third iSurvey due for release later this year and a more detailed examination of the potential impacts of any management changes. Recfishwest’s request will be revisited when the full assessment is available.

The iconic Dhufish story has many twists and turns, particularly in the last decade, but we have come too far to increase the risk to these fish in any way. The stock assessment indicates that current fishing levels are allowing the stock to recover.Ongoing anecdotal reports of high abundances of juvenile fish, particularly in the metro area, are encouraging. The long term forecast indicates sunny skies for Dhuies.

Demersal on the Menu in time for Christmas

Demersal on the Menu in time for Christmas

Prized Dhufish, Pink Snapper and Baldchin Groper will be the catch of the day for Christmas with anglers in the West Coast Bioregion once again allowed to fish for demersal scalefish.

In another positive for recreational fishers and demersal fish stocks, the closures over the past six years are proving successful going on the catches from earlier this year.
Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland said the two-month closure on catching demersal scalefish (from October 15 to December 15) in the West Coast zone introduced in 2009, has been effective.

“The goal of achieving a 50 per cent reduction in catch numbers since management changes were introduced has been reached, and we’ve made great strides toward allowing stocks to recover, and ensuring sustainability of this fishery,” he said.

“This will have great flow on effects and it is a credit to responsible WA fishers that the recreational sector was able to meet the targets set by fisheries managers.

“If these fish stocks continue to show the same level of recovery, the easing of management controls on demersal fish species in the West Coast could be on the cards in the future.

The closure lifting does not include Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, which remain closed to fishing for pink snapper until the 31 January. Dr Rowland said the additional closed areas are critical to spawning.
Recfishwest advocates for sustainable fishing resources and policies that ensure long term benefits to all recreational fishers.

For more information about Recfishwest visit www.recfishwest.org.au or phone Recfishwest on 9246 3366.