Stock decline leads to lower abalone limits

Close up of Kelvins Abalone
Close up of Kelvins Abalone

ABALONE fishers will face tighter restrictions this season as the Department of Fisheries moves to reduce bag limits by a quarter.

The department this week announced it would change the bag limit from 20 to 15 as a precautionary measure because stocks along the Perth coast had not recovered since 2012.

South-West bioregions manager Tim Nicholas said warmer-than-average coastal sea temperatures since a marine heatwave in 2010-11 had significantly slowed or stunted development of abalone.

‘The usual fishing pressure that occurs along the Perth coast during the limited recreational fishing season for abalone cannot be supported with the current level of recruitment of Roe’s abalone into the fishery,’ he said. ‘We have to take a cautious approach for the 2014-15 fishing season and reduce the bag limit in the west coast zone to reduce the potential for more serious stock depletion.

‘The season will still run for five one-hour fishing windows between 7am and 8am on the first Sunday of each month from November to March, but the bag limit for licensed abalone fishers on each of those days will change from 20 to 15.’

Mr Nicholas said changes should be gazetted this month and urged fishers, who must be licensed, to stick to the new limit.

According to the department’s website, fishing out of season, taking undersized abalone or exceeding the bag limit can attract penalties of up to $5000 plus up to 10 times the dollar value of the species.

It said recreational fishers who sold their catch could also receive fines up to $40,000, or face imprisonment.

Senior research scientist and abalone specialist Anthony Hart said the marine heatwave all but wiped out some of WA’s northern stocks, forcing the closure of commercial and recreational abalone fishing north of Moore River.

“The State’s more southern stocks of Roe’s abalone, the species common along the Perth coast, didn’t escape unscathed either,” Dr Hart said.

“What’s been obvious is the lack of the larger-sized abalone in both fished and unfished areas, which indicates that growth of many abalone may have been dramatically slowed.”

Dr Hart said there had also been a negative effect on the reproductive success of Perth stocks, and research teams and volunteers would closely monitor the impact on stocks during and after each session.

The first one-hour abalone fishing session will be on Sunday, November 2, with volunteer surf lifesavers patrolling popular fishing spots at Yanchep Lagoon and Mullaloo.

People can report suspected illegal fishing activity to Fishwatch on 1800 815 507.