Western Port Fishery Assessment 2015

Executive summary

The Victorian Fisheries Authority conducts periodic assessments of the status of key fish species and the fisheries they support. These assessments compile relevant data from recreational fishery monitoring programs, commercial fishery catch and effort reporting where available, scientific surveys and other data such as age and length composition, to support a 'weight of evidence' approach to assessing stock or fishery status. The information delivered through the stock and fishery assessment process is used by fisheries managers to consider the need for review of current management arrangements. This assessment relies largely on data collected from the recreational fishery from 1998 to 2014 as a buy-out of commercial licences and removal of all net fishing in 2007 removed most commercial fishing from Western Port. Therefore commercial data is limited and cannot be relied upon to inform stock status of species in Western Port.

Formal assessment meetings are held to present and discuss the data with stakeholders. A formal assessment workshop on the Western Port fishery was conducted at Hastings, Victoria on 31 August 2015 and was attended by recreational fishers; representatives of the recreational fishing sector; The Victorian Fisheries Authority managers, scientists and compliance officers; external scientists; and a catchment management representative from Melbourne Water. Workshop participants supported maintaining the current management regime.

The Western Port recreational fishery is the second largest marine recreational fishery in Victoria. Fishing is mainly boat-based but there is also a small amount of shore-based angling and some spearfishing. The main recreational species include: King George whiting, snapper, gummy shark, flathead, southern calamari and elephant fish. The fishery data presented at the August 2015 stock assessment workshop along with stakeholder input did not indicate the need for a review of fishery management arrangements, and participants supported maintaining the current management regime. The King George whiting fishery, while highly variable over time, is healthy. Although catch rates declined in the most recent year, they are predicted to improve again during 2016 due to above average abundances of pre-recruits (small juveniles) detected by fishery independent surveys in Port Phillip Bay in 2013.

Snapper catch rates peaked in the mid-to-late 2000s but have declined to levels around the long-term average since, although the 2014/15 year was below average. Pre-recruit surveys in Port Phillip Bay have shown above average abundances of 0+ age snapper in 2012/13 and 2013/14 which should support increasing catch rates of smaller pinkie and adult snapper in Western Port over the coming years as the fish disperse away from Port Phillip Bay and into Western Port.

Flathead catch rates (dominated by sand flathead) have been highly variable but an abundance of small fish is expected to support an increase in the fishery in coming years.

Overall, based on catch rate and size-frequency indicators, the Gummy Shark fishery in Western Port is considered to be in good condition. Workshop participants were concerned that using 'partial length' to measure Gummy Shark was leading to inaccurate measurements and the retention of undersize fish and that total length is the better method.

The weight of evidence supports a significant decline in the Elephant Fish fishery both in terms of catch rates and fishing popularity. Prior to the 1980s there were also very low abundances of Elephant Fish in Western Port which could be linked to environmental/habitat changes that influence the egg laying grounds in the eastern region of the embayment.

Fishing effort based on standardised trailer counts at ramps shows relatively stable effort in recent years with above average trailer numbers in 2014/15. Trailer counts in recent years have been lower than in the early to mid-2000s, particularly for key western ramps. Survey of satisfaction and perception of Western Port anglers in 2014/15 indicated that the primary motivations for fishing were 'enjoyment of the sport' and 'fish for food'. Over 80% of anglers were either 'very satisfied' or 'somewhat satisfied'.

Further information

For a copy of the full report please email richard.rogala@vfa.vic.gov.au.