Greater monitoring of recreational fishing needed to protect the environment

The WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) is supporting calls for increased monitoring of the impacts of recreational fishing activity in sensitive environments, such as Shark Bay and popular fishing destinations along our WA coast.

Shark Bay Shire has already called on the State Government to immediately cut recreational fishing bag limits, with estimates that the local waters have been impacted by the equivalent of three years fishing in the last three months.  That’s a big call for a local government with heavy reliance on tourist visitation.

The increased fishing impacts are due to the combined effects of COVID-19 restrictions and closed borders which is forcing WA residents to holiday at home and many are heading for the coast for fishing getaways – particularly regions such as Shark Bay.

While a natural response by keen anglers, the increased fishing effort is placing added stress on the fishery which is only just returning to strength after a decade of careful management to support commercial fishing efforts.

WA Fishing Industry Council CEO, Alex Ogg, said that while the commercial fishing industry is heavily monitored,  it is critical that the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), as the lead government agency, is better equipped with up-to-date monitoring and real time data on the recreational impacts on these fisheries.

“DPIRD’s job is to monitor and manage the fish resource as a whole. Commercial fishing activity is managed through catch records every time a boat is out fishing, but recreational effort estimates are several years old and predominantly subject to volunteering of catch information.

“DPIRD has already begun developing a harvest strategy for the finfish resource in Shark Bay, which will establish clear and specific performance levels and associated management actions designed to achieve the appropriate harvest levels for all sectors that can meet the ecological, economic and social objectives established for the resource. However, it will need good data,” Alex said.

“On the other hand, the recreational fishing impact for regions such as Shark Bay are based on broader multi-year averages of recreational catch, so it has no way of determining the impact of issues we are seeing over shorter periods, as in recent months.

“The government, through the DPIRD, needs to develop a science-based measurement that can more accurately and more quickly respond to these recreational fishing impacts with appropriate management action,” Alex said.

Shark Bay is only now recovering from the impacts of a marine heatwave in 2010/11 and a series of regional floodings, with commercial catches of its famous blue swimmer crabs back to its benchmarks.

“As such, there is a lack of science-based ability to determine what the impacts of recreational fishing are and how to respond. We have an idea of what happened years ago, but not last month,” Alex said.