Peel Harvey estuary to be studied as part of Murdoch Uni research into WA fisheries

Peel Harvey Estuary is well known for its blue swimmer crabs.Stock image.
Peel Harvey Estuary is well known for its blue swimmer crabs.Stock image.

MURDOCH University has secured $400,000 in funding to assess the social and economic value of two iconic WA fisheries – the Peel Harvey and Blackwood estuaries.

The three-year study investigating the blue swimmer crab and black bream fisheries in the Peel-Harvey and Blackwood estuaries, respectively, will also evaluate the benefit-costs of investing in release programs for these fisheries.

Blue swimmer crabs are one of the most popular species targeted by recreational fishers in WA and many people line fish for black bream in estuaries across southern Australia.

Researchers hope the cross-disciplinary project’s findings will help guide future investment and management of these fisheries across the state.

Project leader James Tweedley, from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, said both fisheries were very popular and important from social and economic perspectives, but their worth to local communities was not known.

“Our fisheries are currently managed to protect fish stocks and prevent bycatch. While this is crucial, there are few performance measures for the social and economic value of the fishery,” Dr Tweedly said.

“Our project will help us to understand why recreational and commercial fishers go fishing, what they want from the fisheries, and estimate the economic contribution they make to these communities.”

Dr Tweedley and the project team will survey recreational and commercial fishers and the wider community about their attitudes to fishing, their motivations for using the specific fisheries and their thoughts on release programs.

The surveys will be done at boat ramps, fishing events and online.

The researchers will also produce a benefit-cost analysis of the economic value of the fisheries – from both a recreational and commercial perspective.

“We want to understand whether it would be cost effective to make a dollar investment in a fishery by spending money on growing a species in aquaculture, then releasing them into the fishery,” Dr Tweedley said.

“Is this going to enhance the fishing experience for recreational fishers and increase profits for commercial fishers, leading to an economic boost for the local community, while at the same time ensuring the sustainability of the fishery? We don’t yet know.

“While restocking of a number of species including black bream, pink snapper, mulloway and western school prawns have occurred recently in WA, the social and economic effects of these programs have yet to be estimated.”

The project is supported by funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on behalf of the Australian Government, with additional financial support provided by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund.

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