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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries

50 years of rock lobster science

Western Australia’s western rock lobster industry is the most valuable single-species fishery in the State and one of the most valuable in Australia.  

In 2000 it was the first fishery in the world to be accredited by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as an ecologically sustainable fishery. Then, in 2017, it became MSC certified for a fourth time.  

An important aspect to how western rock lobster has achieved this world-class status is the predictive science dating back half a century behind ensuring the sustainable management of the fishery.

In the 1960s CSIRO scientist Dr Bruce Phillips developed a technique which allowed the capture of the puerulus (post-larval stage) of western rock lobster which has subsequently been used to accurately predict the catch up to four years in advance.  

Rock lobsters spawn in late spring and early summer and their larvae – called pueruli - spend up to 11 months drifting in the ocean, before being swept by current systems to settle on inshore reefs.  By placing puerulus collectors on these coastal reefs, Dr Phillips was able to count the pueruli drifting in on currents from the depths of the Indian Ocean.  The information gained allowed management decisions to be made up to four years in advance.

The 'puerulus settlement index' has been running at one site since 1968 and has always shown a strong correlation with catches of lobsters three and four years later.  For example, the puerulus settlement during the 2008/09 West Coast Rock Lobster season was the lowest in the time series of puerulus collections across the fishery. This poor settlement was used to predict a very low recruitment to the western rock lobster stock in the 2011/12 fishing season, and this allowed management settings for the fishery to be adjusted well before the low recruitment entered the fishable stock.

Today, the fishery is one of a handful in Australia where a long-term scientific program has provided sufficient detailed information to predict catches in advance. 

This scientific program also provides estimates of breeding stock levels, and a range of information on natural variations in the fishery as it responds to both fishing activity and environmental variations.​​

Last modified: 1/08/2017 10:58 AM

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