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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries

Lobster management

Rock lobster is targeted by commercial and recreational fishers in Western Australia, and we manage both sectors together to ensure sustainability. Western rock lobster is the main species targeted.

We use an integrated fisheries management approach to ensure each sector receives a fair share. 

Recreational lobster fishers need a licence and there are also gear restrictions and size, bag and boat limits, as well as a closed season.

In 2000, the commercial West Coast Rock Lobster Managed Fishery (WCRLF) was the first in the world to be accredited by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as an ecologically sustainable fishery. Then, in 2017, the first to be recertified for a fourth time.

The WCRLF is divided into three zones: (A) Abrolhos Islands; (B) north of latitude 30°S; and (C) south of latitude 30°S (see map below). Historically, this has prevented concentrated fishing in some areas, and has also allowed for management that addresses zone-specific issues.

Commercial rock lobster fishing zones

Commercial fishing management measures include: 

  • areas closed to fishing;
  • lobster size limits;
  • protection for any females in breeding condition;
  • controls on the type of gear used; and
  • a limit on the catch for the whole fishery, known as Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC)
The Big Bank region in Zone B remains closed to lobster fishing due to concerns about the level of breeding stock.
Traditionally, the commercial fishery was managed through a total allowable effort (TAE) system and associated controls, such as limits on the number of lobster pots used by each licence holder. 
Management is heading towards a full Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, which means each licence holder will have a quota (catch limit) attached to the licence in the form of units. They will be able to transfer (sell) some units to other licensees.
In quota-managed fisheries, if an unusually large amount of fishing effort is needed to take the TACC, or the industry fails to achieve the target by a great margin, it may indicate stock abundance is lower than expected.
In recent years, research has shown a drop in ‘puerulus settlement’ – the numbers of late larval-stage lobsters settling on inshore reefs – which can be used to predict catches up to four years ahead. We are continuing to focus on securing long-term sustainability. 
Allocating a catch limit per licence was a step towards a full ITQ system. We also introduced catch and disposal records, authorised receivers and catch weighing procedures (including the use of landing areas) to monitor catches.
Until recently, seasonal closures applied but a 12-month fishing season has now been introduced. This, combined with individual catch limits, is giving fishers more flexibility to fish when the market price for lobsters is high.
For further information about commercial catch and effort please refer to the Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia. This publication should be read in conjunction with our Annual Report.

Monitoring, assessment and research

An extensive science program supports the management of lobster fishing. We collect data on commercial and recreational catches and fishing activity, and carry out independent monitoring to look at the abundance of the breeding stock, puerulus settlement and environmental factors that may affect breeding success and survival.
These programs enable our researchers to estimate catches up to four years ahead, and assess the impacts of changes in fishing technology and practice.

For the past 20 years, recreational catch and fishing effort has been estimated from the results of an annual mail-based survey of fishers. Since 2000/01, telephone diary surveys have provided extra data. The trends generated by the data collected, with data on puerulus settlement, are used to predict recreational catch and effort in following seasons.
We monitor commercial fishing through:
  • compulsory catch and effort records from fishers and processors;
  • data from a voluntary log book scheme; and
  • onboard commercial monitoring by our staff.

These sources of information are used for modelling and stock assessment.
Research projects include:
  • A study of the ecosystem effects of lobster fishing in deep water as part of an environmental management strategy.
  • A second project to examine the effects of lobster fishing in deep water off the west coast by comparing fished and unfished areas, funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).
  • Annual sampling at Rottnest Island in fished areas and unfished sanctuary zones – results from the first five years after sanctuary zones were introduced have shown a slight rise in numbers in these protected areas. This study also aims to provide extra information on growth, natural mortality and how likely lobsters are to be caught depending on their gender and size.
  • Sampling of extra sites in the Big Bank region since 2009 to help assess the effect of the fishing closure.
  • A project to assess the economic performance of the fishery funded by the Federal Government’s Seafood Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).
Puerulus projects
A workshop held in 2009 concluded that the drop in puerulus settlement could have been caused by changes in environmental conditions and productivity in the eastern Indian Ocean, reduced breeding stock levels, particularly in the northern region of the fishery or a combination of these two factors.
A number of research projects have added to our knowledge but have not identified the cause, and work is ongoing.
Puerulus projects developed and funded by the FRDC include:
  • A project to identify factors affecting puerulus settlement.
  • A study to evaluate patterns in distribution and abundance using computer-based models that simulate water currents, temperatures and wind patterns.
  • An evaluation of the use of statistical techniques for determining harvest rates and efficiency increases in the fishery.
  • A study to evaluate the population genetic structure of the western rock lobster.
  • A project to assess possible environmental causes of reduced colonisation of artificial puerulus collectors by a range of species.  

Last modified: 7/05/2020 10:23 AM

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