Authorities hope an abalone fishery north of Perth can be opened for recreational purposes for the first time in more than a decade, following planned studies to assess stock levels.
- The WA government will look into reopening a Midwest abalone fishery closed more than 10 years ago
- A marine heatwave wiped out 90 per cent of the area’s stock in 2011
- Abalone fishing is tightly controlled across the state
A marine heatwave decimated abalone stock across the Northern and West Coast fishing zones in 2011, with a 99 per cent mortality rate recorded in some areas.
All of the Northern Zone and north of Moore River in the West Coast Zone were subsequently closed to recreational and commercial fishers.
Translocation projects attempted to establish new populations and annual surveys were conducted north of Kalbarri up until 2019, but little evidence of stock recovery was detected.
The last population survey along the Midwest coast south of Kalbarri occurred during the 2012–13 season.
Minister for Fisheries Don Punch last week announced that a planned assessment of the Northern Zone would now include the closed West Coast Zone area.
He said he understood the importance of the fishery to recreational fishers.
“I very much would like to see the area reopen to recreational abalone fishing,” he said.
“We have to make sure that the sustainability is there, and that will inform the decision-making.
“However, we are keen to do whatever we can to make sure that people in those areas can enjoy the experience of catching abalone and having a very special feed.
“The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development [DPIRD] will be engaging with Recfishwest on the matter during the first half of 2024–25 with a view to providing access when the … season opens later in that year.”
Fishers question length of closure
Geraldton MLA Lara Dalton said she had received a petition with 85 signatures in support of reopening the fishery.
She said fishers wanted to know why the area was still closed.
“My constituents can understand restrictions and closures for sustainability purposes to protect and restock our precious marine species,” she said.
“But a growing number of people from my electorate question why this area has been closed for so long and why the area between Moore River and the Greenough River mouth is treated differently from the rest of the West Coast zone.”
She said allowing access to the fishery would also “provide an economic boost to the tourism industry of the Midwest”.
DPIRD research scientist Lachlan Strain said “catastrophic” marine heatwaves such as the one in 2011 were rare, but recovery was not guaranteed.
“In the Perth metropolitan fishery, where it wasn’t as extreme, we did detect a decline in large animals, spawn biomass … however that fishery actually recovered,” he said.
“Whereas for the northern end of distribution up near Kalbarri that experienced such a severe impact, it’s very difficult to determine how long [recovery] could take because your spawning biomass has been reduced to such a low level that realistically, you’re not actually sure if it will [recover].”
Abalone fishing outside ban area
Dr Strain said it was too early to speculate on the management practices that could be introduced if the fishery north of Moore River is re-opened.
“We’ll do the surveys and then estimate the stock status of these populations,” he said.
“From there, we’ll be able to assess whether there’s any potential for fishing moving forward, noting the sustainability of the northern stocks will be the key consideration.”
Stock surveys north of Moore River are expected to start in the coming months.
South of the Moore River in the West Coast zone where the ban is not in place, there will be four one-hour sessions for licensed fishers to catch abalone this summer, with hefty penalties in place for those who breach bag limits and other restrictions.
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