Dhufish numbers are dangerously low and experts say they will not improve until sustainability measures are changed.
A soon to be released study by the University of Western Australia has found sanctuary zones, where fishing is not allowed, are effective.
Dhufish prices reached $80 per kg at Easter with an estimated 650,000 people enjoying recreational fishing in WA each year the introduction of sanctuary zones is likely to be unpopular with many fishers.
UWA researcher Kris Waddington said the study identified sanctuary zones covering 20 per cent of dhufish habitat were three times more effective than seasonal closures for 20 per cent of the year.
“Sanctuary zones are more effective than seasonal closures for managing this species as they protect fish year round, providing a refuge where juvenile fish can grow into large adults,” he said.
“If we could design a species that would respond well to sanctuary zones, the species would be long-lived, slow growing, residential and highly susceptible to post-release mortality which are all life history characteristics of our dhufish.”
Management measures introduced in 2009, including individual bag limits and a two-month seasonal closure, are yet to be evaluated but the study supports the introduction of spatial closures as a more effective sustainability strategy.
“If you talk to fishermen around Perth they are finding it increasingly difficult to capture dhufish, suggesting the stocks are declining,” Dr Waddington said.
Recfishwest regional policy officer Andrew Rowland said careful analysis should be done before new measures were implemented.
He said Recfishwest were not averse to sanctuary zones or marine parks but a proper risk assessment and clearly stated objectives should be set down.
“There are environmental groups who are not interested in sustainable fishing and would like to make large-scale no-take areas,” he said.
“Some of these groups correctly state this objective outright, while others hide it behind the guise of fisheries management.”
Both commercial and recreational fishers have targeted dhufish in WA.
A 2007 analysis into the status of dhufish stocks found the species to be over-exploited and reductions in fishing mortality of at least 50 per cent were recommended to ensure stock recovery.
Management measures for recreational fishers were introduced in 2009.
An evaluation of these management measures is being done by the Department of Fisheries WA and is expected to be released this year.
Published in the Western Independent October 2010