By Sophie Elliott
WA's commercial abalone fishing industry will opt to close a portion of their fishery in a bid to rebuild declining greenlip abalone stocks.
Abalone Industry Association of WA chairman Arnold Piccoli and Southern Seafood Producers executive officer Don Nicholls said commercial fishers weren't bracing for a ban, and that this initiative was a 'self-imposed, proactive move for the industry'.
The 12 month closure, which is still being discussed, will apply to a small zone south and west of Augusta within the Area 3 (Cape Leeuwin) catchment.
It is expected from April 1, the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development will implement the new measure.
The suggested commercial closure of the greenlip fishery is separate to the Ngari Capes Marine Park fishing area closures which come into effect on April 10 and impact recreational fishers.
Department senior management officer Rhiannon Jones said a formal recovery strategy was being developed and the department would be discussing the management arrangements for the Augusta region with relevant stakeholders shortly.
Ms Jones said research showed there had been a decline in greenlip abalone on the South Coast, particularly in Area 2 (Shoal Cape to Point Culver) and Area 3 (Cape Leeuwin).
She said stock indicators showed the abundance and recruitment in Area 3 was currently at record low levels and the decline in greenlip abalone was driven by environmental conditions, and in particular, a marine heatwave in 2011.
"This closure is as a result of industry choosing this path as a conservative measure to allow stock to re-establish," Mr Piccoli said.
"This strategy has been undertaken successfully in other states in the past.
"In WA, the issue was the result of a three consecutive years of warm water across the abalone fishery. Industry is examining the Victorian case study to see if it looks relevant to rebuilding the greenlip stocks in the Augusta area."
While a closure of the Augusta sub-area would mean a period of reduced income for fishers, Mr Piccoli said the industry had made the decision with a longer term view in mind.
"The annual management meeting was recently held in Fremantle where department staff asked what industry wanted to do regarding quota setting across all of the zones. In most cases the industry took a conservative position, opting to take less abalone than the department identified as being available under the sustainable quota. This is a long-lasting and valued relationship," he said.
"This closure is an investment in our future. It is precautionary closure, and in the mean time we can research and see how we could work in a way to not get into this situation again."
This latest collaboration by the department and industry is just another example of the two working together to ensure the future of the fishery.
Over the last two seasons, the department and industry have addressed the health of the fishery by significantly reducing catch quotas and increasing the commercial minimum size limit for greenlip and brownlip.
More information on Ngari Capes Marine Park Boundaries can be found at fish.wa.gov.au.