AUSTRALIA - A tagging study by Fisheries scientists has indicated the highest numbers of western rock lobsters along the west coast in decades.
The valuable rock lobster fishery, worth A$420 million to WA, had seen juvenile lobster numbers drop between 2006 and 2010 due to environmental factors so the long-term annual catch was almost halved to maintain economical catch rates and to protect the breeding stock.
During the 2010/2011 season, the fishery moved to a quota system which allowed fishers to change their fishing patterns and fish all year round.
By fishing only at times when prices are high or the market demand is great – such as Chinese New Year – quotas can be used efficiently, profits are greater with less effort and more lobsters remain in the water to breed.
During the past two years, researchers have tagged 15,000 lobsters along the coastline and, by using data such as the numbers, date and location of tagged lobsters caught by commercial fishers, have estimated a healthy increase in the lobster population – possibly back to the levels of the 1960s.
The tagging program, which has one more year to run, has also identified the effects of warmer sea temperatures accelerating the growth rate of the lobsters as well as more lobsters.
Lobsters are moving up to 600 kilometres further afield as they compete for food and reefs to inhabit, and are spreading out along the coast between Fremantle and Kalbarri – a bonus for recreational rock lobster fishers.
Another sign of an increasing lobster population is the good catch rates (more lobsters caught per pot) being logged by both commercial and recreational fishers.
With the ability to adjust the rock lobster supply to market demand and, following recovery in the numbers of juveniles, a very healthy lobster population, prospects are bright for the industry.
TheFishSite News Desk