The Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) supports the sustainability of all Western Australian fisheries, commercial fishers and coastal communities which rely upon them, and the long-term supply of fresh quality seafood to local, state and international markets.
- The west coast demersal scalefish resource (the resource) is facing a serious challenge to its sustainability, and immediate action is required to ensure the resource recovers by 2030.
- Following the most recent stock assessment indicating stock recovery concerns, the Minister for Fisheries (Minister) announced that the recovery benchmark levels are to be reduced by 50%, with the new level set at 375 tonnes (t) of total fishing mortality (down from 750 t).
- Importantly, this level of reduction is consistent with recommendations from the Harvest Strategy Working Group, which was represented by all sectors including commercial, recreational and charter representatives.
- For further information on the most recent stock assessment and the Minister’s announcement, please refer to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s (DPIRD) website.
The west coast demersal scalefish resource is significantly important and highly valued by all sectors, and each have a right to access this public resource.
Given the proposed management measures that are currently out for consultation for ALL sectors, WAFIC has prepared this webpage for people who want to learn more about the commercial sector and how they operate.
HOW IS THE RESOURCE ALLOCATED BETWEEN SECTORS?
- The west coast demersal scalefish resource is a publicly owned resource that is shared between the recreational, charter and commercial sectors.
- The commercial sector has an important role as they make these prized table fish available to the broader WA community through retail stores, restaurants, fish and chip shops and direct to the public from fishers.
- DPIRD manage and issue licences to the commercial fishing sector which allows a certain number of fishers to catch and land demersal species.
- The resource has been formally allocated through an Integrated Fisheries Management (IFM) process, with 36% allocated to the recreational (incl. charter) sector and 64% allocated to the commercial sector. A summary of the IFM allocation determinations can be found at Appendix 1 of the resource’s Harvest Strategy.
- The various key indicator species, such as dhufish and pink snapper, also have sectoral allocations which are outlined in Table 5 of the resource’s Harvest Strategy.
- The current recovery benchmark levels for each sector outlined in the Harvest Strategy, will be reduced by 50%, meaning the commercial sector’s recovery benchmark level will be reduced to 240 t, and the recreational sector’s recovery benchmark level will be reduced to 135 t.
- For more information on the 50% reduction applying to all sectors, please refer to DPIRD’s Phase two consultation website.
WHICH COMMERCIAL FISHERIES ACCESS THE WEST COAST DEMERSAL SCALEFISH RESOURCE?
- The main commercial fishery targeting the demersal scalefish resource in the West Coast Bioregion is the wetline fishery, formally known as the West Coast Demersal Scalefish (Interim) Managed fishery.
- The wetline fishery is managed under the West Coast Demersal Scalefish (Interim) Management Plan 2007 which can be accessed at the following WEBSITE.
- The wetline fishery uses line and hooks and accounts for about 90% of the commercial catch of demersal scalefish on the west coast bioregion.
Temperate shark fisheries
- The shark fisheries operate in the west coast bioregion and primarily use gillnets to target small sharks and also retain west coast demersal scalefish as a legitimate part of their catch.
- These two shark fisheries are referred to as the Temperate Demersal Gillnet and Demersal Longline Fisheries.
- Each fisheries management plan can also be found at the following website
Note – there are three other commercial fisheries who also catch the resource, however they are retained in very minor amounts, typically as bycatch. These catches are strictly monitored.
HOW ARE THESE COMMERCIAL FISHERIES MANAGED?
1. Effort Control
- Like all commercial fisheries in WA, both the wetline and shark fishers are tightly managed to ensure that they are operating sustainably and don’t exceed their allocated amount of catch.
- In both fisheries (wetline and shark), all fishers must have a licence to operate in the fishery, which has an annual fee associated.
- Once a fisher has purchased a licence, they must also purchase or lease units of entitlement to go fishing and catch the resource.
- A unit in each fishery equates to a total number of hours an operator can spend on the water fishing (i.e. unit value). This rule is used as a tool to keep commercial catches under a strict total allowable catch.
- The unit value varies in each fishery and within each zone.
- Changing the unit value (hours per unit) is a management measure DPIRD has used to reduce the total potential effort in the fishery. This is how the commercial sector has been able keep its catch under previous benchmark recovery levels.
- Reducing the total hours allowed to fish is currently what is proposed for both commercial fisheries as a way to ensure they will achieve their new recovery benchmark levels.
- For further information, please see the Commercial Sectors Proposed Management Package.
- The wetline fishery is managed by 3 Areas called Kalbarri, Mid-West and South-West Area (Map 1)
- The shark fishery is also managed by zones, where operators fishing west of Black Point in ‘Zone 1’ of the southern shark fishery are the only operators catching west coast demersal scalefish (Map 2).
- The Metropolitan Area (Lancelin and South of Mandurah) (Map 1) is CLOSED to all commercial fishing for demersal scalefish since 2007.
- Commercial fishers who want to operate in either fishery must have purchased or leased units of entitlement (i.e. permitted fishing hours) for each zone to be able to fish in that zone.
3. Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)
- All vessels operating in the wetline and shark fisheries must have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) fitted.
- Fishers are required to nominate when they leave a port area to commence fishing so DPIRD is alerted when any fishing activity has commenced.
- The VMS units have a GPS attached so DPIRD can track, in real time, when and where fishing activities occur on each trip. This allows DPIRD to closely monitor the total hours used by an operator.
- The time it takes to travel to and from fishing areas is included in the total number of hours permitted and a minimum number of hours is deducted from the fishers’ entitlement in the wetline fishery regardless of weather, breakdown or any other event.
- Further info on VMS can be found here.
4. Gear used
- In the wetline fishery, operators catch fish by using hooks attached to lines (i.e rod and reel) or drop lines. This fishery does not use long lines, fish traps or trawl nets.
- In the shark fisheries, most operators use a demersal gillnet to target sharks, however they do also catch west coast demersal scalefish as a legitimate part of their catch. Demersal longlines are also allowed to be used by operators, however it is not common practice.
5. Size limits
- The same size limits for demersal scalefish must be followed by all sectors, including the commercial sector (e.g. 50cm or 41 cm for pink snapper, 50cm for dhufish and 40cm for baldchin groper).
6. Spawning periods
- There are two spawning closures for west coast demersal scalefish which apply to all sectors. These are the Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds closures for pink snapper and at the Abrolhos Island for baldchin groper.
7. Mandatory Catch Reporting
- All commercial fishers must record the amount and weight of each fish species they retain on each trip. This information must be provided to DPIRD who use it to inform stock assessments and other scientific analyses.
- Catch returns are legislated to be lodged with DPIRD no later than the 15th of every month and penalties apply for non-compliance.
WHERE DOES COMMERICALLY CAUGHT WEST COAST DEMERSAL SCALEFISH GO?
- All west coast demersal scalefish caught by commercial fishers is supplied directly into the local domestic market, with very little going to the eastern states.
- All product goes to retail stores, restaurants, fish and chip shops and direct to the public from fishers.
- Contrary to what some may believe, west coast demersal scalefish are NOT exported overseas, in fact WA currently imports around 70% of its seafood from overseas and other states.
WHAT IS THE COMMERCIAL SECTOR DOING TO PLAY THEIR PART IN SUPPORTING THE RECOVERY OF WEST COAST DEMERSAL SCALEFISH STOCKS?
- Just like the recreational and charter sectors, the commercial sector is also facing a 50% reduction in recovery benchmark levels (i.e. total allowable catch) as per everyone’s commitment to the Harvest Strategy.
- Industry members in the wetline and shark fisheries are currently considering exactly how their new benchmark recovery levels will be achieved.
- The proposed management measures for the commercial sector include effort reductions (i.e. total hours they can fish) and consideration of a move to a quota system (individual total allowable catch) for the wetline fishery.
- Just like all sectors accessing the resource, the proposed management changes will have a very significant impact on the commercial sector, impacting on individual operators, associated businesses and supply of local fresh fish to the WA community.
- For further information on what is currently proposed for the commercial sector, please see the Commercial Sectors Proposed Management Package.
- Under the proposal currently out for consultation, commercial operators will still be allowed to fish any day of the year, however it doesn’t mean they can fish every single day. As outlined above, commercial operators will still be constrained by the total number of hours they are permitted to fish on their licence.
- It’s important that commercial fishers are able to choose which days they fish in the year to ensure there is an ongoing supply of local seafood for the WA restaurants, food service outlets and fish and chip shops.
WHAT HAS EACH SECTOR PREVIOUSLY BEEN CATCHING?
- Retained catches of west coast demersal scalefish species by all sectors are annually published in the State of the Fisheries report which can be found on DPIRD’s website.
- The West Coast Demersal Scalefish Resource Status Report For 2021 can be found on page 66 of the most recent State of the Fisheries report for 2020-21 and includes the following information:
Image ref – Page 67 of Status Reports of The Fisheries And Aquatic Resources Of Western Australia 2020/21
Image ref- page 69 of Status Reports of The Fisheries And Aquatic Resources Of Western Australia 2020/21
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