Our View: Australian Wild Salmon
A Prolific Resource: Importance of Resource Sharing
West Australians can celebrate the abundance of Australian salmon which grace our shores for a few short weeks each year between March and May. The species is revered across both commercial and recreational sectors, and our community is fortunate that the well managed fishery stocks are healthy, providing a highly sustainable catch to meet both community and commercial aspirations. Prudent management of this resource by our Government will ensure abundant harvests of this iconic resource for many future generations of West Australians.
The “salmon run” along the South and South West coasts of WA is typically around six weeks in duration, with highly variable patterns which bring the salmon close to shore in some years and further offshore in others. Traditionally commercial and recreational fishers target the schools which move in close to beaches, using lines or nets. The variability of the migration pattern means fishers need to be flexible and opportunistic for the best chance of meeting their respective needs.
Commercial fishers have limited flexibility in their ability to fish across the South Coast, as they are limited to fishing certain beaches. This year, of the hundreds of beaches across the coast, salmon are being fished by commercial salmon fishers on Parry’s Beach, Betty’s Beach and Cheyne’s Beach only.
Generational commercial fishers have always been happy to share these beaches with recreational fishers, most of whom enjoy the spectacle. It is important however to remember the beach is a workplace for commercial fishers. Salmon fishing is very much a waiting game and if the fish don’t come to those beaches, our fishers cannot support their families. Mutual respect for our commercial workers, recreational anglers and beachgoers alike enhance the salmon fishing experience and keep our beaches safe for all.
Weekend and holiday closures over this short season would have grave impact on commercial viability, employment across the supply chain, and importantly the ability to supply and value add salmon products into our expanding food markets. In effect, such an initiative would represent a quasi-closure of the commercial salmon fisheries.
Future of Salmon in our food web
Historically salmon has been a key driver in the state’s Southern fishing economy, with canneries processing up to 4000 tonnes per year, with high employment rates and international distribution. A single school can create up to twenty jobs in regional centres and create a value of $200,000 when it reaches retail shelves. This has a significant impact for WA’s regional economies. Cannery closures have seen the commercial catch dwindle in recent decades, with a majority of the catch providing a safe and sustainable food for zoo’s across Australia, a bait source for lobster fishers and a premium ingredient in specialty pet foods.
The future looks very different – with Australian salmon emerging as a popular, healthy and well-priced product, sought after by a growing number of high profile chefs across Australia. The opportunities for high-end value-added products are rich, alongside the need for low cost, high nutrition and high-volume prepared food products for sectors such as aged care. In doing so it is important to understand that not all fish taken will meet the specification as high-grade food fish. It is an issue across primary production where “straight” bananas and imperfect apples need to still be utilised in some manner.
The transition of salmon into a diverse market with a range of value-added products, means innovation not only in the end product, but continuous improvement in handling along the supply chain, including catching, processing and transportation. As it stands, our industry is not perfect, and it’s important that we commit to a trajectory to get better at what we do – as new markets for our products evolve, in parallel with product innovation. The need for continuous improvement is a critical step in meeting community and market expectations, as well as increasing employment and investment opportunities in the seafood industry.
Importance of Salmon as a bait source
Food security is a major concern across the globe, with frequent disruptions along the food chain. The importance of continuing to provide out of specification salmon ‘seconds’ and by-products for use as bait cannot be overstated. Currently the vast majority of the bait used in both recreational and commercial cray pots is imported. Any interruption to the overseas bait supply, due to issues of biosecurity (the Queensland imported diseased prawn crisis along with the pilchard virus are examples of recent major bait biosecurity issues), the sustainability of imported bait or other factors could leave a massive shortage of fishery-critical bait for both commercial and recreational lobster fishers. Maintaining a responsible supply of local, safe, sustainably caught salmon products into the bait market provides both security for lobster fishers as well as a full utilisation of the salmon catch.
Responsibility of Fishers
As with the use of any natural resource, our community sets a high bar for behaviour for its shared users in terms of environmental, social and economic outcomes. Commercial fishers are expected to abide by an industry code of practice, periodically reviewed to ensure its alignment with community values. There is an expectation that returns to WA are balanced across the experiential fishing ambitions of recreational anglers, the supply of fresh local seafood to community, and a vibrant and viable future for commercial fishers who provide employment in our coastal communities. There is also a shared responsibility for maintaining the pristine conditions of our magnificent southern beaches, jetties, and public amenities by all salmon fishers.
The joy of Western Australian salmon is that it is sustainable – there is enough for all to share. However, we need a deeper understanding and a shared set of values across recreational and commercial fishing communities, as stewards of the resource. A mutually respectful relationship across these sectors will assist to mitigate conflict on our beaches and media sites and leverage the value of this important and much loved resource.