West Coast demersal harvest strategy update

There will be a lot of discussion over the West Coast Demersal issue over coming months and I’d encourage fishers from all sectors to pay close attention along the way, as this matter goes to the heart of what commercial fishing is all about.

The health of this prized, iconic fishery is measured by the performance of key indicator species: pink snapper, WA dhufish and baldchin groper.  Using Integrated Fisheries Management (IFM) principles, a resource sharing arrangement (Recovery Strategy) was put in place ten years ago to try to address the overfishing which was occurring. The recreational and commercial sectors were given notional allocations and there was an expectation that each party would deliver the necessary outcomes to ensure future sustainability.

Now at the halfway point of the twenty-year recovery strategy, the stock assessment numbers are alarming. While the commercial sector has stayed well below the safe targets, the level of recreational fishing has gone through the roof.

A Harvest Strategy process has now been applied and our industry representatives, plus WAFIC and Southern Seafood Producers WA, have proposed a 50 percent cut to future catches. We see this as a progressive and responsible approach and there’s a strong chance that the Minister will authorise the same target for both sectors.

Obviously there have been all sorts of background arguments flowing within our sector about who should bear responsibility – but this isn’t going to fix the problem.  We have engaged with Recfishwest (RFW) and had some robust discussions over the situation, and in the end we’re all in this together.  Unless we get some serious bipartisan buy-in to developing some robust joint solutions, we run the risk of seeing the key resources decline further.

Therefore, we have committed to government that the commercial sector will deliver a sustainable 50 per cent cut. We know this will not be easy, however our assembled west coast demersal industry group is looking at various avenues, which may even involve a path towards quota.  We’d expect RFW to deliver their 50 per cent cut as well – in full – with no smoke and mirrors, using measures which deliver genuine harvest savings.

Once the cuts are delivered by respective sectors, we have committed to RFW that we will sit down together and discuss joint arrangements which will then help to cement the reforms for the long term.

Topics for discussion may include real-time measurements, joint approaches to shark depredation, a review of size limits and a closer look at barotrauma and the dangers of recreational ‘high-grading’ and ‘kiss and release’.

In doing so, the pathway ahead certainly won’t be easy but we’re resolute to determine our future rather than having it imposed by others. And as long as we positively seize the initiative and work in a collaborative manner, we will see the resource levels recovering in future years. The recreational fishers will have a future and the whole WA community will still be able to access these amazing, prized table species.