Extended ban on prized fish species not necessary and risks economic benefits, lobby group says

Extended ban on prized fish species not necessary and risks economic benefits, lobby group says

Western Australia’s peak fishing advocacy groups are doubling down on efforts to force a rethink on a proposed fishing ban as the closure of a consultation period looms.

Key points:

  • Under the proposal, some of WA’s most popular table fish could be off limits for nine months of the year
  • The government is concerned mature populations of demersal or bottom-feeding fish are too low
  • It has extended a consolation period until the end of September

The proposal would see prized species of demersal or bottom-feeding fish off limits to recreational anglers for up to nine months of the year, while the commercial sector’s quotas would be slashed to shore up mature populations crucial to the breeding cycle.

The current seasonal closure limits the catching of species such as pink snapper, dhufish and bald chin groper from October 15 through to December each year for the commercial sector and places it off limits entirely for recreational anglers.

However, the rethink on extending the closure follows an extensive stock assessment which determined populations of demersal fish were not recovering in line with projected 2030 targets.

Sign detailing fish and fishing rules.

The WA government is considering an extension of a current seasonal closure from two months up to nine months.(ABC South West: Anthony Pancia)

The deadline comes as WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development aquatic resource management director Nathan Harrison said mature species were lacking in the assessment.

“The real concern for us is the absolute absence of older fish within the population,” Mr Harrison said.

“There are very few fish left older than 10 years. There is a need to recover those age classes to ensure breeding stock is at any adequate level.”

A silver fish near some coral.

The dhufish, a popular species targeted by WA anglers, can live for up to 20 years.(Supplied: DPIRD)

Sliding scale for sectors

Commercial fishers would see catch levels reduced by 50 per cent while charter operators would be allotted a limited number of “tags” distributed among the estimated 20 operators in WA. Both would be then permitted to fish throughout the period of closure.

“It would be a very limited number,” Mr Harrison said about the tag allotment for charter operators.

“They would be able to use the tags on the trips of their choosing but it would be representing 50 per cent less than what they are actually catching at the moment.”

Mr Harrison said the proposed seasonal closure to the recreational sector, which he estimated to be 40,000 anglers fishing for demersal species, would be the “primary measure to deliver those catch savings”.

“Any sort of proposal is going to have to be quite significant in ramping back the level of fishing pressure at the moment for the recreational sector.”

The consultation period for the proposal closes on September 30. So far the department has received close to 700 responses in relation to the recreational sector.

Social and economic concerns

Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland said the lobby group “supported the science and need to take action” but that the recreational sector was being hit unnecessarily hard by the proposal.

He said the sector contributed up to $1.8 billion annually to the economy in the area subject to the proposed closure from Kalbarri in the state’s north to south of Margaret River.

A man holding a fish.

Andrew Rowland says the ban would impact a broader economy than just the fishing sector.(Supplied: Recfishwest)

“The recreational sector has always stepped up to the plate to play our role in protecting this suite of species,” Dr Rowland said.

“We simply think there is a better way to do this that puts the fish first but doesn’t destroy all the social and economic benefits that fishing provides.”

Dr Rowland said the measures Recfishwest had submitted included targeted closures during spawning periods, additional size and bag limits and “large and well-funded community education campaigns” aimed at encouraging the catching of alternate fish species.

“Unfortunately we did present our package of 17 recommendations to department (DPIRD) but unfortunately to date we have not had any feedback on that,” Dr Rowland said.

“We absolutely reject a eight to nine-month closure. We don’t believe it’s necessary and we are really keen to sit down with government to walk them through it.”

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