WA Fishing industry Council calls for united action to save prized demersal stocks

The WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) is calling for the recreational and commercial fishing sectors to come alongside government and work together to help turn around the critical decline in demersal fish stocks within the West Coast bioregion.

The West Coast demersal fishery is half-way through a 20-year recovery plan, and while the decline in overall fish stocks is plateauing, there is still limited positive signs of long-term recovery, as older breeding stock remain in very low numbers for key species such as snapper.

The latest scientific stock assessment of pink snapper and dhufish stocks from Kalbarri to Augusta has found the West Coast Demersal Scalefish Resource is not recovering fast enough to safeguard the ongoing sustainability of these prized fish.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPRID) principal fisheries management officer Clinton Syers said the latest stock assessment showed the recovery rate of scalefish stocks was slower than anticipated in the 20-year recovery plan.

Mr Syers said pink snapper and dhufish are used to indicate the health of the entire scalefish resource, which is comprised of more than 100 species of fish.

“We are now more than half-way through the recovery plan period and have been carrying out science assessments to measure the rate of recovery of the resource under the current management measures and have found the demersal scalefish resource is not recovering as quickly as necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of these important fish species.

“Pink snapper and dhufish can live up to 40 years and our latest stock assessment shows a continued lack of older fish in the population required for the resource to recover.

“This is due to only having a few successful breeding years since 2010 to replenish populations, combined with increased fishing pressure resulting in less of these fish surviving long enough to add to the breeding stock and support stock recovery,” Mr Syers added.

WAFIC Chief Executive Officer, Darryl Hockey said the latest stock surveys are alarming and the lack of recovery of breeding stocks of key species such as snapper indicates the inability to successfully replenish stocks.

“It appears that a harvest reduction of at least 50% will be required to give the breeding populations a chance.  It should be noted that over the past ten years the average catch of the commercial sector has been significantly within the safe levels we agreed to, whereas the overall recreational catch levels have climbed alarmingly.”

“Of even more concern is that these latest stock assessment figures date back to 2017-18, which is before we saw a huge increase in recreational boat sales and a 50 per cent increase in boat ramp traffic, so the impacts to stock are likely to be even more severe they the report states,” he said.

Mr Syers said DPIRD fisheries scientists have completed three major stock assessments focussing on pink snapper and dhufish since 2010 to monitor stock recovery, following a period of overfishing.

“The stock assessment makes it clear that changes to management arrangements are required to get the recovery of demersal scalefish to sustainable levels back on track,” Mr Syers said.

The report was forwarded to a Harvest Strategy reference group comprising WAFIC, Recfishwest, DPIRD and the Marine Tourism WA to agree upon further actions.  The various sectors will then meet separately to develop strategies to rectify the situation.

You can download an ABC Country Hour interview on the West Coast demersal issue here.