WAFIC calls for urgent measurement of recreational fishing impacts

The Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) has called for a logbook system to be immediately introduced for recreational fishers of high-value demersal species and rock lobsters to provide accurate daily records of fishing activity to ensure WA fish breeding stocks are sustainable.

The call follows anecdotal reports of extensive overfishing as recreational fishers spend more time on the water as a result of the hard border closures. Increased shark depredation (bite-offs) are also becoming a major impact on fish stocks.

WAFIC chief executive officer Darryl Hockey said feedback from overflowing coastal communities indicates the COVID restrictions have led to an extraordinary level of domestic tourism with the current intensity of fishing likely to be significantly higher than at any previous time in the state’s history.

“This is a unique situation and there is an associated risk that breeding stocks are quickly being reduced to unsustainable levels. We know there is a depletion in stocks, but we need to quantify to what extent this is occurring, so we are proposing the introduction of a daily recording system to assist scientists to see exactly what’s happening so they can make the right management decisions to keep our oceans healthy and sustainable for the sake of our children,” he said.

Some coastal communities, including Shark Bay, have estimated the fisheries are being impacted by the equivalent of several years of fishing over recent months.

“We believe in rigorous data collection and analysis to ensure all fishery management decisions are made on a scientific basis. The long-term future of WA’s fish populations deserves no less,” Mr Hockey said.

“The commercial fishing sector is required to produce accurate daily data through either logbook or electronic means so the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) is provided with the weight of catches right down to the nearest 100 grams. As such, the commercial catch is monitored and thoroughly understood.

“However, for recreational catches the current measure involves undertaking occasional surveys, random checks at boat ramps and then using a set of broad assumptions to extrapolate the data to provide final stock estimates. Clearly this can be a very inexact process, so we believe it’s time to introduce a daily record keeping system for the recreational sector which provides timely and accurate data,” he added.

Recreational bag limits are calculated on the assumption that the average fishing person participates for a limited number of days per year, however with thousands of people unable to holiday in Bali or Phuket, the State’s west and south coasts are now populated with tourists who are sometimes fishing for many days on end.

Adding to the challenge is the increased recreational use of highly sophisticated GPS technology for the exact targeting of species, so the rate of success is much higher than in the past.

“To get things started, we believe that a manual logbook system should be immediately introduced to ensure boat fishers provide accurate daily catch records, including species and size. This would also include a record kept of any fish bitten off by sharks as well as how many undersized fish are returned to the water.

“In the meantime, it should be quite straightforward to fast-track the development of a simple smartphone app or electronic logbook so that data entry is easy for the user and sent through by SMS for real-time scientific analysis.

“We are not talking about beach or jetty fishing at this stage, we are simply focused on valuable prized demersal species like dhufish, snapper, coral trout, cod and baldchin groper – and rock lobsters,” he said.

Mr Hockey acknowledged the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing people are extremely responsible and would welcome the best technology being applied to accurately account for the recreational take.

“It’s in the best interests of the community and we’d like to think there would be a high level of willing voluntary uptake,” he said.

Shark depredation, commonly known as ‘bite-offs’, is also a growing problem, with some northern fishers claiming a high percentage of their demersal catch is taken by sharks before being landed. If so, the bag limit is not an accurate measure of how many fish are actually lost from the population on that day.

“We are happy to work closely, constructively and collaboratively with RecFishWest and DPIRD to ensure enhanced data collection processes can be introduced as soon as possible to ensure unintended pressures are not placed on valuable fish breeding stocks.

“In addition, with regard to the increasing losses of prized fish by shark depredation, the commercial fishing sector offers its open assistance to work with the recreational sector to alleviate the impacts of shark activity in a sensible and targeted manner to allow greater success rates of recreational catches and less pressure on the availability of prized table fish,” Mr Hockey said.