Fisheries take wrong bait

John Curtis.
John Curtis.

Some recommendations include closed seasons and reduced bag limits.

Recreational fishing in WA is responsible for some 7000 jobs and generates more than $250 million in revenue to the State.

Herring is a prime reason why many anglers go fishing. About 380,000 anglers fish the equivalent of 4,000,000 fishing days a year between Kalbarri and Augusta. The waters between Yanchep and Mandurah attract about 227,000 fishers, generating an estimated 2.4 million fishing days a year.

Proposed bag and possession limit changes and closed seasons will have a significant effect on recreational anglers, and particularly on shore-based fishermen and holidaying or travelling fishermen.

Implementing these limits on recreational anglers will not return the fishery to what it once was. Recreational anglers are not the cause of the problem.

The problem is the commercial fishery for herring on the south coast. Here, a small group of part-time commercial fishermen take the same amount of fish as the whole of the state’s recreational sector.

Using ‘G’ nets to trap whole schools of herring, these fishermen take these fish on their westward migration to spawn before they spawn. They are generally sold for bait. Most of the herring sold in retail fish outlets is taken by commercial fishermen from the west coast.

The warning signs should have been noted several years ago. A previous Fisheries minister was asked to remove the minimum 18cm size limit from the commercial catch as they couldn’t catch viable quantities of minimum sized fish. This was done. For sustainability, you cannot remove the breeding stock before they have had a chance to breed.

The Department researchers noted in another paper that ‘the findings indicate that (the Australian Herring) A. georgianus constitutes a single, genetically homogeneous stock across its geographic range. This homogeneity is due to the aggregation of spawning adults over a relatively small area and short time period, which facilitates random mating, and the extensive adult migration and planktonic larval dispersal which both facilitate a high level of mixing’.

The WA Government Fisheries policy statement issued in March 2012 notes ‘management strategies will ensure the long term sustainability of WA’s fish and aquatic resources, and seek to optimise the socio-economic benefits of those resources, within the overarching requirement of stock sustainability’.

By not controlling this fishery, the Department is abrogating its responsibilities and leaving it to the commercial fishermen to decide how many fish they take.

Practices such as taking whole schools of fish where they congregate before spawning and selling them for bait is not in the interests of long term sustainability of a species which the Fisheries Department research shows is now under sustainability pressures.

Getting less than a $1 a kilogram is not optimising the socio-economic benefits of those resources when herring are worth so much more to the economy of the State through all the spin-offs of a rewarding recreational fishing experience, and the travel, tourism, accommodation, fuel, food, tackle, etc spending of recreational fishing people and their families.

The answer to this dilemma is very simple. Close down this unregulated fishery and immediately release the 110 tonnes of herring that they would take into the recreational fishery and allow them to breed.

This will ensure fish for the future and allow a lot of young recreational anglers the opportunity to catch a fish and be hooked on a healthy outdoors pursuit for life.