MARINE MAT­TERS

South Western Times - - Faces & Places -

BE­ING in the cray fish­ing busi­ness since the late 1990s, I have seen a lot of changes in when, how, how many and how big we can catch the fa­mous cray­fish, or as they are known world-wide, the western rock lob­ster.

As a start­ing point, what is the dif­fer­ence be­tween a lob­ster and a cray­fish?

Here is a good rule of thumb: You caught it in salt wa­ter and it has no claws ... it is a rock lob­ster.

You caught it in salt wa­ter and it has claws … it is a lob­ster

You caught it in fresh­wa­ter and it has claws … it is a cray­fish.

So, we are in fact re­ally catch­ing the western rock lob­ster, but we all re­fer to them as cray­fish.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant changes in re­cent his­tory has been the new reg­u­la­tion that al­lows for catch­ing cray­fish all year round.

This change on the sur­face ap­pears to be great news for both the com­mer­cial and recreational sec­tor but can have po­ten­tially neg­a­tive im­pacts on divers.

They may now be tempted to dive in very cold, dark murky sea­sonal con­di­tions in search of a catch.

Th­ese con­di­tions may be un­safe or be­yond their skill level so from that point of view re­mem­ber to al­ways dive with a buddy and have some­one on the boat at all times.

The crays most sought-af­ter th­ese days are the early runs of av­er­age size crays that come in to the shal­lows to moult roughly four times a year, leav­ing be­hind res­i­dent crays for divers that miss the “walk” to still stand a chance to get a feed.

The bag limit is eight crays per per­son per day at the mo­ment with more rules and reg­u­la­tions on how many can be in each house­hold and in your pos­ses­sion at any one time. Fur­ther de­tails can be found at www.fish.wa.gov.au/doc­u­ments/ recre­ation­al_­fish­ing/li­cences/ rec_li­cence_rock­_lob­ster.pdf.

Once the crays are in nice and shal­low, some­times in only 3m of wa­ter, they moult like ci­cadas and climb out of their old shells and come out shiny and white.

Th­ese are the most sought-af­ter cray­fish, be­ing sweet and ten­der un­til their shells har­den up.

The meat is very white in this freshly minted cray as it hasn’t be­gun grow­ing a new in­ter­nal shell yet, which can cause the meat to be­come tougher and not so white.

How­ever, let’s not for­get the fa­bled jumbo cray, which is the same species and type of cray, but just one that lives in deeper wa­ter, past 30m, and grows up to about 5kg.

In the 20-plus years I’ve been in­volved in the recreational dive in­dus­try, this change to all-year-round fish­ing is by far the most sig­nif­i­cant. It re­flects on a fan­tas­tic fish­ery that has been well man­aged and is recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally for its sus­tain­abil­ity.

On­go­ing mon­i­tor­ing of the pueru­lus (baby cray) counts, and small changes to the in­dus­try as re­quired, will help main­tain WA’s big­gest fish­ery and en­sure the in­dus­try has lob­ster for years to come.

Let’s not for­get that from a tourism point of view this will have a pos­i­tive in­dus­try im­pact and en­sure that dive tourists head­ing to hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions like Rot­tnest, Bun­bury and the South West will now be able to en­joy crays all year round.

Torry Goodall (CoastalW ater Dive) The bag limit is eight crays per day.

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