WA’s recreational fishers will be impacted by a planned overhaul of fishing laws to protect pink snapper and dhufish populations between Kalbarri and Augusta.
Industry professionals taking part in a research panel warn that a new 10-year plan, which aims to reduce fish mortality by 50 per cent, could change the minimum legal catch size and affect all fishers – not just commercial operators.
Halfway through a Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) 20-year demersal fish recovery plan, some fish stocks are not on track to meet 2030 targets.
The problem is while stocks of scalefish species, such as the pink snapper and dhufish, have increased, they have not recovered enough to safeguard their future.
Experts say there is a lack of older fish in the populations.
TackleWorld business owner Ashley Ramm, who sits on the West Coast Demersal research panel, said commercial fishing impacts fish populations more than angling.
“Commercial activity is the biggest problem with the dwindling population, but it’s important to find a sustainable solution so that all anglers don’t suffer down the track,” Mr Ramm said.
Commercial fishing is heavily regulated in WA.
The state’s peak industry body, WA Fishing Industry Council, said in a submission to a 2017 Federal Productivity Commission Inquiry that certification, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, ensures high standards are achieved by many commercial operators.
But Department of Fisheries fisheries management officer Shane Walters said commercial fishing does account for most of the fish caught.
“Commercial anglers have been allocated 64 per cent of the demersal scalefish resource, while 36 per cent is allocated for recreational purposes,” he said.
But a spokesman for WAFIC said that the recreational sector has taken more than its agreed sustainable share of snapper each year of the recovery strategy which started in 2010, while the commercial sector has remained safely below every year.
“The latest figures indicate that instead of taking 36 per cent of pink snapper, the recreationals take 55 per cent, while the commercial sector takes 45 per cent,” he said.
Dhufish and snapper are the two species in the research that are extremely popular among anglers everywhere.
The WAFIC said that recreational fisherman account for 75 per cent of all dhufish catches, while commercial fisheries take 25 per cent.
Mr Ramm said there has been a large amount of public interest in the recovery plan.
“4900 people sent in their ideas for reducing the mortality rate without halving bag limits or extending seasonal bans,” Mr Ramm said.
One of the biggest problems is high mortality rate caused by barotrauma. Fish that are too small are often caught and thrown back in the water, but just 20 per cent of those fish survive.
Barotrauma is fatal as it causes the gases in deep sea fish to expand when they are reeled quickly to the surface.
“One of the potential changes is reducing the minimum legal size, which means a hooked fish is saved from barotrauma when thrown back,” Mr Ramm said.
The recovery plan is currently in phase two out of seven and later this month proposals for sustainable fishing will be developed and released to the public.
A sustainable plan is scheduled to be implemented by the new year for all anglers to follow.
The Department of Fisheries said it is working closely with Recfishwest to find the best solution to increase the demersal fish population as quickly as possible.