New regulations to allow WA fishers to pool catches

The fishing regulations mark a change for one of WA's most prolific industries. Photo by  Jonathan Carroll JCA.
The fishing regulations mark a change for one of WA's most prolific industries. Photo by Jonathan Carroll JCA.

WA's recreational fishers will be able to pool their catches on boats if new regulations set to be drafted by the State Government are given the green light.

Minister for Fisheries Dave Kelly said the move towards new regulations was in response to the complexity and confusion with the current bag limit legislation.

"It just makes sense for recreational fishers sharing a day out on a boat to share their catch, provided the boat limit or the applicable combined bag limit is not exceeded," he said.

"Following concerns raised by Recfishwest that existing catch regulations for licensed fishers on board vessels are confusing, I was keen to find a way to simplify the rules."

Simply, the move in some respects would mean a change from "per boat" to "per licensed fisher".

It will be up to fishers to use their common sense in understanding the laws, and Mr Kelly said he hoped to have them drafted by mid-2018.

It is understood Fisheries compliance officers will now need to take the proposed changes into consideration when checking fishing activity, indicating the guidelines are likely to be accepted by Recfishwest.

"This streamlining of the rules will require changes to regulations, but in the interim Fisheries and Marine officers will take an educative approach and work with the recreational fishing community in the spirit of my approval to draft the new regulations," Mr Kelly said.

New regulations to 'remove complexity'

In WA, bag limits are used in order to prevent over-fishing and keep the breeding cycle of fish populations active.

The current legislation covers mixed species daily bag limits, individual species daily bag limits, boat limits, possession limits and size limits.

According to Fisheries, a boat limit is the maximum number of fish of a species or group of species that may be on a boat or attached to a boat at any one time.

"On day trips in powered boats, there must be two or more Recreational Fishing from Boat Licence [RFBL] holders on board to take a boat limit," current regulations state.

"Unlicensed fishers can fish if at least one person on board has an RFBL, provided the total catch of everyone on board stays within the bag limit of the one or more licensed boat fishers."

The new regulations would mean recreational fishers could now share bag limits when fishing from boats.

In order to do so, fishers will need to be actively involved in the fishing.

For example, the government noted a particular change would occur in relation to fishers targeting rock lobsters.

The new arrangements will allow more than one bag limit of rock lobster to be kept from a single pot provided there are other licence holders on board.

It's a 'common sense' approach

WA's rock lobster bag limit laws have stung a number of fishers in the past, with one Perth man locked in a two year battle with Fisheries over a cray catch from 2014.

Bret Carter, who has recreationally dived for crayfish for 40 years, was diving with two friends in the Shoalwater Marine Park in November 2014 when he was questioned by Fisheries officers.

According to a Supreme Court of Western Australia judgement, two Fisheries officers witnessed Mr Carter's friend surface the water with a bag of crays.

The friend brought them on board the trio's boat, measured them and placed some back into the ocean.

Mr Carter, surfaced minutes later and claimed he went to do the same thing, but as he boarded the vessel, was intercepted by Fisheries officers.

He was found with 25 crayfish in his possession – 17 more than the legal daily limit of eight per person - and subsequently charged.

His charge of taking lobster in excess of the daily limit was thrown out by a Magistrates Court in 2016 with the judge determining Mr Carter had not yet "taken" the lobsters when Fisheries intervened, but Fisheries appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

They argued, under the Fish Resources Management Act, a lobster is considered 'taken' at the time it is snared.

Mr Carter, however, argued that he had not yet completed the process of 'taking' the lobster when Fisheries questioned him, and that not all the lobsters were his.

"The respondent stated that he intended to sort the rock lobsters and select eight to keep," the judgement read.

Judge Joseph McGrath found in favour of Fisheries and allowed the appeal.

At the time of the judgement, Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland hit out at Fisheries' legal pursuit of Mr Carter.

"A day out with friends catching crays and sharing a catch bag has turned into a legal nightmare which is still unresolved," he said. 

"If the courts cannot understand the rules then what hope does the average fisher have?

"Recfishwest believe that people diving for crays should be afforded the same rules as those who use pots and be given a reasonable opportunity of five minutes to sort their catch when they return to the boat."