This year’s whites run has been forecast to happen in late November according to one of WA’s leading rock lobster scientists.
However, the eager anticipation over this summer’s cray season is being overshadowed by community concerns that the proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park could see thousands locked out of some of the best prime cray fishing ground close to north Metro boat ramps.
According to DPIRD Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang, this year’s whites run is expected to kick off around late November to early December.
This is welcome news for metro cray fishers who make up a large part of the State’s 53,000 recreational rock lobster fishing licence-holders.
Once the whites run gets under way, generally moving in a north-westerly direction, traffic at Metro boat ramps begins to fire up as many boat fishers enjoy heading out “at sparrows” to pull pots and grab a feed of crays often before work.
To help predict the upcoming run of the crayfish along the WA coast, DPIRD collect the puerulus – a juvenile stage of a cray – with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish will seek shelter.
Based on the analysis of previous puerulus numbers, we are expecting a similar season to last year, with a good steady flow of catches and sizes.
However, taking the edge of this year’s excitement around the upcoming whites run are growing community concerns that extensive no-fishing sanctuary zones in soon-to-be released Marmion Marine Park extension proposals that could cover extensive prime cray fishing ground on or inside the Three-Mile reef.
The proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park will see its boundaries extend from Trigg to north of Two Rocks and go out from the shore to large sections of the Three-Mile Reef (see map below) – with proposed sanctuary zones potentially impacting on large areas out from Hillarys, Ocean Reef, Mindarie and Two Rocks boat ramps.
“Shooting out the harbour to grab a feed of crays before work during the whites run is one of the things that makes living in Perth so good,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland, “So we understand community concerns around sanctuary zones potentially heavily restricting fishing for crays out of north Metro boat ramps.
“That’s why we encourage all fishers to join our cast of thousands as a Recfishwest member to ensure our collective voice gets heard loud and clear when the marine park proposals are released for public comment potentially in the coming weeks.”
Just like the final season of Game of Thrones, the march of the ‘whites’ is approaching.
Unlike the final season of the universally acclaimed show though, we know this upcoming season of the crays run will have a greater reception!
The march of Western rock lobster — more commonly referred to as ‘crays’ — is set to get underway slightly earlier than last year in early to mid-November, according to one of WA’s leading cray experts, DPIRD Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang.
It is welcome news for a growing number of more than 56,000 licensed cray fishers, who target this unique West Aussie species that are distributed from around Augusta up to Onslow and feature most prominently between Perth and Geraldton.
Dr de Lestang said the sustained abundance of crayfish and slightly warmer waters than last year is set to fire up the nearshore fishing activity, as the crays begin their annual migration to deeper waters.
“The water temperatures in August and September impact the moulting and start of the whites migration each year. In 2022, the average water temperature during these months was 17.6oC, which was warmer than 2021 when it was 17.1oC, so we can expect the whites to start a bit earlier than last year,” said Dr de Lestang.
The crayfish crystal ball
Ever wondered how the experts predict the upcoming crayfish run?
DPIRD collect the puerulus — a juvenile stage of a cray — with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish prefer to settle to forecast crayfish abundance each season.
This method allows DPIRD researchers to determine the number of puerulus that have concentrated on these buoys for each new moon period. From these numbers, they can then forecast upcoming recruitment trends and patterns.
The settlement information has a strong correlation with crayfish catches in about four years once the crays have matured to a legal size, so the puerulus numbers from 2018-19 are analysed to allow DPIRD to make an accurate seasonal forecast for 2022-23.
“Based on the puerulus numbers in 2018/2019 we are expecting a similar year to last, so still good solid numbers. A lot of the catches, especially the whites, will be a bit larger than last year as they will not be dominated by a large recruitment,” said Dr de Lestang.
The flight of the whites
The start of the whites run varies each year, although based on previous recordings, the whites usually begin their quest heading in a north-westerly direction around late November and early December.
The reason it is dubbed the ‘whites run’ comes from the colloquial description of crayfish which have freshly moulted with their new soft, pale-coloured shell. Pre-moulted crays are easy to identify as they have a harder, dark red shell.
Juvenile crays settle along inshore rocky habitats and seagrass beds. Once they reach sexual maturity — at about three to four years — they start their migration heading offshore.
During the migration, crays set off towards deeper reef platforms in a north-westerly direction. This annual phenomenon is what has been dubbed by crayfish enthusiasts as the ‘whites run.’
Get your cray pots and loops ready!
Once the crays are anticipated to start their march in around two weeks, potters and divers will venture to the ocean on the surface and below it with a buzz of excitement, hoping to catch a feed of these tasty critters.
One of the benefits to the whites run is this red-hot action takes place relatively close to shore, with shallow reef ledges visible from our beautiful beaches frequently abundant with crays.
“The whites run is an integral and much-loved part of WA’s fishing calendar. Once the word is out that they are being caught nearshore, a lot of keen crayfishers will queue up before sunrise at boat ramps or throw on the wetty and dive the reefs,” said Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett.
“The nearshore crayfish abundance during the whites run is what underpins this awesome West Aussie fishing experience, it’s entirely unique and special to WA to pull in a pot full of crays or to dive under a rock ledge off our coastline and see dozens of antennules poking out.”
Tips for finding crays for days
For Perth-based fishers who are going for crays this summer, Dr de Lestang suggested good places to start targeting the shallow reef systems off our coastline are areas such as Two Rocks, Mindarie, Rockingham, Garden Island, Rottnest and Mandurah.
The nearshore activity during the annual whites run over summer is why more than half of WA’s recreational cray catch takes place between December and February, which is a testament to great fisheries management helping maintain their sustainability and abundance.
If potting, use a mixture of bait. Soft and oily bait will get the lobster into the pot, while longer lasting tougher bait will keep them there. Ensuring the pot is heavy also improves your odds as crays will be reluctant to get inside if it moves. Wood pots will start to fish better once they have been able to ‘soak’ for a day or two.
If diving, the start of the whites run can be the most effective time to duck beneath the surface and use quick hands or cray loops for specimens that are holed up in shallow reefs closer to shore or around islands such as Rottnest, Garden and Carnac.
Areas both north and south of Perth have already seen solid numbers of crays being caught over the past fortnight, with boats launching off Mandurah in particular coming home with brimming pots.
Big thanks to Dr Simon de Lestang and DPIRD for their crayfishing tips!
There’s a handful of events in society that each year create a state of extreme excitement. For some, it’s Boxing Day sales, the Melbourne Cup or the AFL Grand Final, but for about 55,000 West Aussie fishers, it’s the annual migration of Western Rock Lobster (crays), known locally as the ‘whites run’.
It’s this time in late November and early December that crays begin their annual migration to offshore waters providing excellent fishing in nearshore areas.
In this article, we will provide you with some answers to commonly asked questions as well and help you head in the right direction to catch some of these tasty morsels.
Why are they called ‘white’ crays?
A ‘white’ cray is a colloquial term applied to crays that are freshly moulted and have a soft, pale shell. This is in comparison to pre-moulted crays which have a hard, red shell. The crays are exactly the same but are at different stages of their life cycle.
Where do they ‘run’ to?
Juvenile crays settle along seagrass beds and rocky habitat close to shore. Once they reach sexual maturity at about 4 years, they migrate en masse from this habitat to offshore reef platforms.
When does the ‘run’ happen?
Whilst there are multiple factors that influence exactly when the migration begins, it is generally understood that the migration will start towards the end of November and will reach full swing by the beginning of December. Good catches usually continue until about Christmas time. Water temperature is thought to be the biggest influence on when the migration begins. Cooler water temps tend to delay the start of the migration.
How do I go about catching them?
The white’s run is when potters do best. Diving catches tend to be more consistent than potting catches across the summer, but the period from late November to Christmas is when dropping pots come into its own.
As crays are on the move from under their usual nearshore reef ledges, they will seek food and shelter along their migration path. A cray pot provides both of these needs. Pots should be set on the sand on the western side of natural habitats such as reef or weed. Keep dropping pots further out to sea as the migration continues, and check your pots every day during this period.
Crays can travel many kilometres a day so don’t be afraid to spread your pots out to get an idea of where good numbers of crays are each day. Crays love fresh bait, so don’t let your bait get rotten in the basket, change it every few days at the very least.
Perhaps the most important aspect to remember when dropping pots is to make them heavy. Any movement on the bottom will result in no crays the next morning, so make sure you use plenty of weight.
This season is forecast to be excellent, with numbers of crays inshore at record levels. We expect the whites run to be excellent again and wish all fishers the best of luck chasing a feed for Christmas.
Imagine a world in which you could predict the future. You might place a bet on the winner of a future AFL premiership, or know exactly which day to go fishing next month. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, we can’t predict AFL premiers using any science, but for one of WA’s most loved fishing targets, the Western Rock Lobster (or ‘crays’), decades of data has shown that science can predict abundances of crays up to four years in advance! And if that’s not exciting enough, the 2017/18 is predicted to be one of the best years in over a decade!
During Spring and Summer, each year cray larvae known as ‘puerulus’ are pushed inshore by wind and currents where they settle on nearshore reefs.
Research shows that these crays take four years to reach the legal length of 76mm. Fisheries researchers assess the abundance of puerulus across the new moon period each month by monitoring purpose built puerulus collectors at four locations along the West Coast and Abrolhos Islands.
A cray puerulus collector (pictured right), what looks like bottlebrushes or a mop is actually artificial seagrass. Late larval phase crays use the collectors for habitat and provide long-term population/breeding stock information for fishers and fisheries managers.
High settlement has always shown a strong correlation with catches of crays three and four years later and the 2013 settlement numbers (Figure 1 below) were some of the highest in recent times; in fact the highest since the early 2000’s.
What Does This All Mean for My Fishing?
Added to this excellent rate of juvenile settlement, is the fact that numbers of adult crays are also at an extremely high level, due mainly to neither the commercial or recreational fishing sectors catching their annual allocation in recent times – meaning more crays are being left in the water each year!
Reports from divers indicate that crays are already stacked up in fantastic numbers in nearshore reef platforms along the coast. These high abundances will make for excellent fishing experiences over this Summer.
If you are thinking of trying for crays for the first time, there has never been a better opportunity. There’s plenty of information available on our other website www.ilovefishing.com.au
Divers should do well as soon as the season opens, but the potters will have to be patient as the traditional ‘whites’ run won’t kick off until late November. Once it cranks up though, the fishing will be superb, with many boats traditionally reporting catching their boat limit most days during this migration period.
Recent clarification of diving rules will make for a much more enjoyable fishing experience. To see what’s changed, click here.
Good luck chasing crays this season, we would love to hear how you go and see a few pics and videos, so feel free to email us on email@example.com or jump on our Facebook page and join the discussion.
Stay tuned for our November Broad Cast edition where we’ll take a closer look at the ‘Whites Run’ plus give you some handy tips and tricks on the best way to cook your crays plus much more!