Map catch limits for iconic trophy fish amid fears for sustainability

Catch limits for iconic Western Australian fish, such as groper, pink snapper and dhufish, would be halved under a new management proposal designed to halt an unsustainable decline in fish stocks.

The reductions would apply to recreational and commercial anglers operating in the West Coast demersal scale fishery, which stretches from Kalbarri to Augusta.

WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said under the changes the total allowable catch of demersal mealybugs would be reduced from 750 tonnes to 375 tonnes a year.

Fisheries Minister Don Punch said groundfish stocks have not recovered fast enough since recovery efforts began 10 years ago. (ABC News: Glyn Jones)

Urgent action needed

Last year a major stock assessment along the WA coast using pink snapper and dhufish as indicator fish species found that management changes were needed to reduce catch rates.

It found the sustainability risk for snapper to be ‘severe’ while the risk for dhufish was rated as ‘high’.

“Look at the science,” Mr. Punch said.

“It showed us that in the last 10 years since we started the recovery program for these fish, the recovery has not been as good as we hoped.

“We are at the point where unless we take further action there will be no fish for the future, there will be no fish for our grandchildren.”

Tough but fair, say commercial fishermen

WA Fishing Industry Council CEO Darryl Hockey said the recreational catch allocation would drop from 270 tonnes to 135 tonnes, while the commercial sector would be capped at 240 tonnes of demersal mealybugs.

“This is going to cause a lot of pain to our industry and we really wish it never came to this because [commercial fishers] are fishing sustainably and to standards that have been established for a number of years,” he said.

WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive Darryl Hockey leans against a pier.
WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive Darryl Hockey said the cuts would mean short-term pain for long-term gain.(ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

Mr Hockey said the decision would lead to a “restructuring” of commercial operators, but changes were essential.

“The commercial fishing industry has no future until this is corrected; recreational fishing has no future until this is corrected,” he said. .

“WA residents who frequent restaurants, cafes and fish and chip shops who want this highly prized iconic table fish will also not be able to get them unless action is taken.

A fish has its face close to the camera.  He's on a boat, he's just been caught.
Pink snapper was identified as not recovering quickly enough in a survey of fish stocks from parts of the WA coast.(Provided: Ben Pethick)

Devil in the detail

RecFishWest represents WA’s 750,000 recreational anglers. Operations manager Leyland Campbell said the changes would be a “challenge” but were necessary.

He said measures to implement the cuts were not yet finalized.

“It’s not about halving your bag limits or doubling your closures. It’s all about durability,” he said.

“[The] ad doesn’t actually talk about specific arrangements and what that actually means in terms of the rules.

Mr Punch said the state government would conduct a public consultation until April to determine how the cuts would be achieved, with final measures to be finalized by mid-2022.

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