Geoff Simpson has been crabbing in the Sound since 1984 and believes the current season is the worst he has encountered, with a single crab his total catch on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this week.
Crab stocks have improved since a three-year ban on crabbing was lifted in 2009, but Mr Simpson is concerned over-fishing from commercial vessels may have them on the brink of collapse again.
‘It used to be absolutely magic, you could dive and the crabs would come dancing along the bottom and you’d easily have your bag limit in 20 or 30 minutes,’ he said.
‘It would be nice if a line could be drawn between the BP Refinery and (Woodmans Point) Ammunition Jetty to leave the Southern Flats to recreational crabbers.
‘Beyond that is more than enough area for commercial crabbers to get their catch and they have the equipment to crab in deeper water, which we don’t.’
Of further concern to Mr Simpson was the lack of undersized juvenile crabs pulled up in nets.
‘In the past, at least I’d pull up little ones and throw them back,’ he said.
‘On Wednesday morning, I threw one little one and one female back and that’s the real worry ” the little ones aren’t there.’
Department of Fisheries WA management officer Ben Rome confirmed to the Courier that there were 11 license holders for commercial crabbing in Cockburn Sound but ‘only five or six actively fish’ the area.
A combination of environmental and fishing pressures could result in shorter crabbing seasons in the future, despite management plans and restrictions on all fishers in place, he said.
‘We monitor catch numbers, conduct stock assessments each year and carry out onboard research with commercial fishers to ensure they adhere to guidelines,’ he said.
‘We are provided with the number of hours and catch numbers for each month and carry out recruitment surveys so we can predict stock for coming seasons.’
Another complete ban on crabbing would be a worst-case scenario if stocks weren’t to improve, Mr Rome said, but Mr Simpson doesn’t know if he will see the current season through.
‘I don’t know if I can be bothered going out again if I’m only catching one crab, though I hope that’s going to change,’ he said.