by Paul Sellars
In order to boost the long term profitability of the commercial rock lobster fishery the Department of Primary Industries is taking decisive action to rebuild lobster stocks along a large part of Victoria’s coastline.
Rock lobsters are found along much of Victoria’s coastline
Fisheries Victoria Executive Director Anthony Hurst said DPI was implementing a clear plan to strengthen the biological condition of the Eastern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery to increase its stocks for the long term benefit of the commercial sector.
'The rebuilding plan for the Eastern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery aims to progressively increase the lobster stock, fishers’ catch rates, business profitability and quota values,' Mr Hurst said.
'In order to help strengthen this valuable fishery in the long term, we need to reduce the total volumes that commercial rock lobster fishers are able to catch in the short term.
'As a result, the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the Eastern Zone will be reduced from 66 tonnes to 48 tonnes for the 2012-13 season, as part of the sector’s 10 year plan to improve the profitability of this fishery by 2020-21.'
Mr Hurst said in order to develop the plan, Fisheries Victoria had sought advice from several independent fisheries scientists and economists and an industry-based Lobster Resource Assessment Group.
He said the plan followed similar action that began in the Western Zone Rock Lobster Fishery three years ago, which will now see the total allowable commercial catch increase from 240 tonnes to 260 tonnes in 2012-13.
'We recognise that some Eastern Zone lobster fishers may face financial and operational challenges in adjusting their businesses to a short term reduction in the total allowable commercial catch,' Mr Hurst said.
'However, they would be likely to face reduced catches in 12 months time if we do not take action now to rebuild lobster stocks and catch rates.
'DPI will also bolster the tight controls already in place for the recreational harvest of lobsters with a targeted fisheries compliance program focusing on recreational divers, as well as focusing on illegal trade in lobsters by unlicensed fishers.
'We will also conduct a recreational fishing census to identify how many people fish for lobsters and how many they catch, which will be used to improve the annual scientific assessment of lobster stocks.'
The Eastern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery extends from Apollo Bay east to the New South Wales border.
Mr Hurst said Eastern Zone commercial fishers had benefitted from an increase in lobster stocks above the legal minimum size limit over the past year due to an above average recruitment pulse of smaller lobsters from 2008-09.
'Fishers’ catch rates, which are measured in kilograms per pot lift, have also temporarily improved from around 0.3-0.4 kilograms to 0.5 kilograms per pot lift now,' he said.
'This spike in the lobster stock and catch rates is expected to continue in 2012-13 before dropping back to the long term average for the next three to four years.'
Mr Hurst said the plan to rebuild lobster stocks was consistent with the world’s best practice approaches that had been successfully applied in other Australian and New Zealand fisheries.
He said DPI would also work with Eastern Zone lobster fishers over the coming months to identify ways to involve them more in the management of the lobster fishery, such as identifying research priorities and data collection.
Department of Primary Industries website