The latest review of fish stocks off the WA coast between Kalbarri and Augusta has found fishery management changes and catch reductions are needed to protect popular fish such as pink snapper and dhufish.

Key points:

  • A new study has found prized WA fish such as snapper and dhufish are under threat 
  • The commercial industry says management changes are urgently needed  
  • But the recreational sector says reducing the catch is a shared responsibility

It’s the third major stock assessment conducted in the fishery since 2010, following a raft of cuts to fishing limits that were implemented to rebuild scalefish numbers. 

Conducted by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) scientists, the latest West Coast Demersal Scalefish stock assessment found the prized tablefish species were not recovering fast enough to safeguard their sustainability. 

DPIRD principal fisheries management officer Clinton Syers said the fishery was halfway through a 20-year recovery plan but was not recovering fast enough. 

“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,” he said. 

“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.”

A group of people fish off a jetty at sundown.

There are concerns an increase in recreational fishing is putting too much pressure on some WA fish stocks.(Supplied: Madeline Canda)

Commercial sector wants recreational cut

CEO of the WA Fishing Industry Council Darryl Hockey said urgent action was needed. 

He called for management changes to result in a reduction of the recreational sector’s catch. 

“We can’t afford to take no action, this is our last chance,” he said. 

“If we do take some action, we’ve got a chance of recovering these species.

WA Fishing Industry Council Chief Executive Darryl Hockey leans against a jetty.

WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive Darryl Hockey.(ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

Mr Hockey said the commercial industry had remained below catch limits set in 2010, and increased pressure on the fishery was coming from an increase in the recreational catch. 

“This isn’t about attributing blame on recreational fishers, we know overwhelmingly recreational fishers are very responsible,” he said.  

“Unfortunately, in the recreational sector, the catch has drifted up over time.

“So, clearly, the onus comes back onto that sector under the agreement they signed up to in the [2010] harvest strategy to make sure that they are taking the measures to stay within it.”

Currently, recreational fishers can catch one dhufish and two demersal fish in total.

A freshly caught fish on a boat floor. It is silver.

West Australian dhufish and pink snapper stocks are not recovering at a fast enough rate in the West Coast Demersal fishery.(Supplied: Ben Pethick)

Fish stocks are publicly owned

RecFishWest, the body representing WA’s recreational fishing sector, believes any review should result in shared catch reduction if required. 

CEO Andrew Rowland said the situation had not reached a dire point yet, but sustainability must be a key priority for all stakeholders moving forward. 

“Although the alarm bells aren’t ringing right now, the importance of this suite of species and anything to indicate that the recovery isn’t happening at the speed or rate that was anticipated is cause for concern,” Dr Rowland said. 

He said the recreational fishing sector was worth around $2.4 billion to the state’s economy and that fish stocks were a publicly owned resource. 

“It’s really important that it’s managed to return the highest and best use to the WA public that own it,” he said. 

“But at the end of the day, we’re not going to put the sustainability of the stock at risk to be able to do that.” 

‘This is our last chance’: Alarm about future of iconic fish species
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