I strongly support our commercial fishing industry and believe it to be one of the best managed in the world but something is badly wrong in the Gulf of St Vincent.
The States’ own 2013 (PIRSA) reports advise that it is in its weakest position since the introduction of quota (1996), that legal size and junior sizes have declined, and that for the fourth year in a row the commercials have not been able to catch their quota and it is “classified as transitional depleting stock”
When Blue Crabs were taken commercially as part of a general fisheries licence up to the 1970s, only drop nets were allowed. When commercial pots were introduced to the West Coast in 1986 that crab fishery collapsed and the licences were surrendered.
The States report shows $6.4 million gross income to the blue crab industry in 2012 giving the State an economic rent of $1,550,000.00, up from $121,000.00 in 1997/98 after commercial pots came in.
There are now three crab fisheries in SA and it appears that the larger expanses of water in the West coast and Spencer Gulf are doing well while Gulf St. Vincent is depleted.
The reports state that commercial fishers have been expanding their target areas in the Gulf St Vincent to include just off “Port Gawler” and when they “lift the pots” the second lift of the day does not catch as much as their first lift.
The State’s response has been to reduce the bag limit of recreational fishers by half. In other words, low tide amateur crab rakers and drop netters who fish a couple of hours per day occasionally are stopped but commercial fishers (except for a short closed breeding season) with catch all pots in the water 15 to 20 hours per day, are not!
For the last Forty years I have been able to take a crab rake to Port Gawler and catch a feed. I am not a good fisherman but many times I could easily have bagged out if I chose, but did not usually bother to do so. I go crabbing just as much for the recreation and social event as I do for the fun of feeding the family a wild catch.
For the last five years or so I have had difficulty getting a dozen crabs. Previously, an hour in the “right spot” could rake up 18 or twenty good size crabs, as well as release many dozens of undersize. Only twice in twenty years did I bother to spend only the one extra hour needed to get the bag limit for a family party.
Now it takes the whole of the low tide to catch a half a dozen “keepers” and there are very few small ones as well.
At first I thought it was just a bad day, or just the wrong tide, or just plain unlucky. But everybody in the area is talking about it.
It is plainly obvious to all but the State government that wants the financial income, that the Gulf of St Vincent is just too small an area for heavy commercial crab potting. Right now the stocks are officially “depleting”. Many recreational crabbers don’t even bother to go. Soon the “keepers” will all be gone.
What are we going to do about it?
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. – Plato
The Photographs show the results of crab raking on news year eve low tide. It was a particularly good low tide for crab fishing but I gave up after catching one keeper in one hour, and was meandering back to shore and came across another 7. That is eight crabs in two hours. My mate caught only two keepers in the same time and released them in disgust. The real tragedy is there was also very very few small ones about.