Western Australia’s peak fishing campaign groups are redoubling their efforts to force a review of the proposed fishing ban as the consultation period nears its close.
- Under the proposal, some of WA’s most popular table fish could be banned for nine months of the year.
- The government is concerned that mature populations of demersal, or bottom-feeding, fish are too low
- He extended the grace period until the end of September
The proposal would limit prized or bottom-feeding fish species to recreational fishermen for up to nine months of the year, while commercial sector quotas would be cut to support mature populations crucial to the breeding season.
The current seasonal closure restricts the catch of species such as pink snapper, pink snapper and baldhead to the commercial sector from October 15 to December each year and restricts it entirely to recreational anglers.
However, the reconsideration of extending the closure comes after an extensive stock assessment found that demersal fish populations are not recovering in line with projected 2030 targets.
The deadline comes as WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development director of water resources management Nathan Harrison said mature species were missing from the assessment.
“The real concern for us is the absolute absence of older fish in the population,” Mr Harrison said.
“There are very few fish over 10 years old left. There is a need to restore those age classes to ensure that breeding stock is at any adequate level.”
Sliding scale for sectors
Commercial fishermen will see catch levels reduced by 50 per cent, while charter operators will be allocated a limited number of ‘tags’ distributed among an estimated 20 operators in WA. Both will then be allowed to fish during the closure period.
“It would be a very limited number,” Mr Harrison said of the tag allocation for charter operators.
“They will be able to use the tags on the journeys they choose, but it will be 50 percent less than what they currently charge.”
Mr Harrison said the proposed seasonal closure of the recreational sector, which he estimated has 40,000 anglers fishing for demersal species, would be “a key measure to ensure these catch savings”.
“Any proposal would be extremely important to reduce the level of fishing pressure currently on the recreational sector.”
The consultation period for the proposal closes on 30 September. So far, the department has received about 700 responses related to the recreation sector.
Social and economic concerns
Andrew Rowland, chief executive of Recfishwest, said the lobby group “supports the science and needs to act”, but said the leisure sector was being hit unnecessarily by the proposal.
He said the sector contributed up to $1.8 billion annually to the economy of the proposed closure region, from Kalbarri in the state’s north to south of Margaret River.
“The recreation sector has always stepped forward to play our part in protecting this suite of species,” Dr Rowland said.
“We just think there’s a better way to do it that puts the fish first but doesn’t destroy all the social and economic benefits that fishing provides.”
Dr Rowland said measures introduced by Recfishwest included targeted closures during spawning periods, additional size and bag limits and “large and well-funded community education campaigns” aimed at encouraging the catch of alternative fish species.
“Unfortunately we have submitted our package of 17 recommendations to the department (DPIRD) but unfortunately we have not received any feedback on it to date,” Dr Rowland said.
“We absolutely reject an eight-to-nine-month shutdown. We don’t believe it’s necessary and we’re ready to work together with the government to get through that.”