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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries

Fisheries science

The primary role of our Science and Resource Assessment Division is to provide timely and quality scientific findings and objective advice which are vital to support the management, conservation and sustainable use of Western Australia’s aquatic resources.

Fisheries management requires sound world-class scientific information and advice to make informed risk-based decisions about the future of WA’s aquatic environment.

Our ongoing research, monitoring and assessment programs are focused on understanding more about the State’s major fish stocks and the marine ecosystems that underpin these resources.

Fish stocks are assessed for their sustainability within each of WA’s six ‘bioregions’ using an Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) approach. EBFM is a holistic approach taking into account all ecological resources, from fish to dolphins and coral reefs, as well as economic and social factors, in deciding how to manage fisheries.

 

illustration map of Westen Australia 

The scientists carrying out the research aim to improve biological and technical knowledge about aquatic species and their habitats. This information is made available to State Government, industry, fishing groups, the public and other fisheries scientists around Australia.

The Science and Resource Assessment Division has four expertise-based branches – Invertebrate Fisheries, Finfish Fisheries, Biodiversity and Biosecurity, and Stock Assessment and Data Analysis. Projects are generally undertaken by teams, often in collaboration with external partners. There are 130-plus staff members, of which the majority are scientists. The remainder are support staff, including administrative personnel.

We have a range of research vessels, including a flagship vessel the RV Naturaliste.  Commercial fishing vessels are also chartered from the fishing industry for research expeditions.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

 

The Science of Surveys
Our research scientists monitor recreational fishers and their catch to learn more about Western Australian fisheries. Have you ever wondered how we conduct our research? Keep reading to discover more about the science behind recreational fishing surveys.

Our Survey Methods
We conduct recreational fishing surveys or censuses of WA fishers because unique groups of fishers and licence holders provide different useful data. Charter fishers will provide mandatory returns, which gives us a comprehensive understanding of charter fishing activities and the species they catch. In comparison, a random selection of Recreational Boating and Fishing Licence holders are chosen to voluntarily participate in the Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey, allowing us to gain a sound dataset regarding recreational boat fishers. We do not require shore-based fishers to report their catch, so our researchers must actively interview shore-based fishers at beaches while they are fishing to collect shore-fishing data. Although our data collection methods vary, each is optimised to collect representative data from the participant base and the fishing they participate in.

We use a wide range of methods to collect data about WA’s recreational fisheries. These can be ‘on-site’ (where a fisher is contacted during or immediately after the completion of their fishing activity) or ‘off-site’ (where a fisher in contacted after their fishing activity is completed).

A survey may combine the use of multiple survey methods because each will have its pros and cons. When combined, the survey methods complement one another and improve the accuracy of data. One example of a complementary survey is the Perth Metropolitan Roe’s abalone recreational fishery survey which combines a shore-based access survey to collect catch and effort data and an aerial survey to collect effort data. These methods combine to provide estimates of catch for the Roe’s abalone recreational fishery from Moore River to Busselton.

Continuous Improvement
We are always looking to explore new technology to improve the efficiency of our data collection. For some of our surveys, researchers use an iPad to record data from interviews with fishers. We are also developing smartphone apps for fishers to record their fishing data. Since these methods are new, it is important to test them against more traditional survey methods to make sure biases aren’t occurring while this research is underway.
 
On-Site
On-site surveys take place when we record data during a fishing event or straight after it has been completed. Since this involves researchers visiting fishing locations (rather than fishers remembering information after a fishing event as in off-site surveys), the data collected on-site can be easier to recall and species identifications can be verified.
 
Access Point
Recreational fishers can be interviewed in-person via access point surveys, and our researchers have been conducting these surveys since the 1980s. For this method, our researchers spend a set amount of time at one location and interview fishers at the end of their fishing trip. During interviews, fishers are asked questions about the time and place they fished, as well as questions about the species they caught. Sometimes our researchers also measure and weigh the recreational catch.

Roving
Roving surveys are another survey method used for fisheries research – and, like access point surveys, roving surveys involve our researchers conducting on-site interviews with fishers. However, in roving surveys, the interview generally takes place while the fishing activity is still occurring. Researchers may also complete counts of fishers at each location and generally travel to multiple locations within a single day. Roving surveys often require the researchers to follow a fixed schedule which allows only a certain amount of time to be spent completing interviews at each location before moving to the next. We have been conducting roving surveys in WA since the late 1990s.

Remote Cameras
Permanent, stationary cameras are positioned at many boat ramps along the WA coastline to record boat launches and retrievals 24/7, with the first remote camera being installed in 2005. Back in the office, our researchers take a random sample of dates and boat ramps, and record the time and type of boat being launched or retrieved using a computer program. The boating activity is used to complement other methods of collecting recreational fishing data.

Aerial
Flying over an area using manned aircraft is a cost-effective way of counting how many people are fishing at a given day or time over large geographic areas, and this method has been used in WA since 2006. This is the best way for our scientists to count abalone fishers during the very short season. Aerial surveys using manned aircraft have also been used in remote regions such as the Freycinet Estuary near Shark Bay. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles has also been trialled to evaluate the effectiveness of this emerging technology for surveys of recreational fishers.

Off-Site
Off-site surveys involve contacting a fisher after they have been fishing. Fishers are often asked about the species they caught and how many were kept and released. They may also be asked about the frequency and location of their fishing activity as well as other social and economic questions which help improve our understanding of recreational fishing in Western Australia.
 
Many of our off-site survey methods require a database of participants, and we usually contact people who hold a recreational fishing licence – for example, a Recreational Boat Fishing Licence, a Rock Lobster licence, or a Marron Licence. Without the participation of licence holders in our surveys, we would have no way of collecting such a large and diverse array of data, and we wouldn’t be able to comprehensively understand WA’s important species and fishing activity. Using these essential participant databases is the most cost effective way of collecting information on recreational fishing behaviour.
 
Email
Sending invitations to participate in online surveys to recreational fishers via email (or by mail, as we have done in the past since the 1980s), is a cost-effective way of surveying a large number of people throughout the state. In the past decade, we have sent survey links to people with a fishing licence and asked a variety of questions including the type of fishing they did, the locations they fished, and demographic information about the fishers themselves. We have also recently begun using apps to collect data from WA recreational fishers as a citizen science initiative.

Angler Diary and Logbook
Our angler diaries (also known as logbooks) are surveys that fishers complete voluntarily, and they have been conducted in WA since the late 1970s. Fishers can record information about their catch in logbooks over time, or in ‘catch cards’ and questionnaires after a single fishing trip. They can record information such as the species of fish caught and their length, the date and time of the fishing trip, and where they fished. This report on blue swimmer crab stock in the Peel-Harvey Estuary is an example of a survey that uses this method.

Telephone
We have been calling fishers to collect data in WA since 1999. The telephone surveys have been used to monitor many fisheries over the years. Some surveys involve one call to a fisher at the end of a fishing season to find out how well fishers did. In recent years, as part of the Statewide Recreational Fishing Surveys, fishers have agreed to receive regular phone calls over a 12-month period regarding their fishing activity. Questions asked including how often participants went fishing, how many fish they caught, the species caught, and the amount of time they spent fishing.

The telephone component of our Statewide Recreational Fishing Surveys are conducted by the Survey Research Centre at Edith Cowan University on behalf of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

Send Us Your Skeletons
Some recreational fishers donate the filleted skeletons of fish they catch, to be analysed in a lab by our research staff. The purpose of the Send Us Your Skeletons project, which commenced in 2010, is to find out more about the species you catch, allowing us to make science-based management decisions regarding these fish.

Our scientists primarily find out the age of your fish by examining its ‘otolith’ (ear bone). Then, the fish’s length may be taken, and its stomach contents may be studied. This data helps us paint an accurate picture of population structures of WA fish.

Find out more about the Send Us Your Skeletons project and how you can participate.

What is This Data Used For?
Recreational fishing is a highly valued resource in the WA community, and its sustainability is vital to ensuring it can continue to occur in the future. By collecting a variety of data on recreational fishers and their catch, we can improve our understanding of recreational fishing activity. 
 
Our surveys complement the many other assessments we carry out, providing us with an even clearer picture of the health of our aquatic resources. Ultimately, this information is critical to help us manage the State’s aquatic resources more effectively and ensure recreational fishing in WA remains some of the best in the world.

Importance of Randomisation
It is important that information from fishers across the recreational fishing sector are included in our surveys. If we chose to only go to the most popular boat ramps or only measure the biggest fish, then we would be biasing our data and missing out on a full, comprehensive picture of WA’s fisheries. This is why we ‘randomise’ many parts of our surveys – to make sure they are scientifically sound.

A great example is the way we use randomisation in our Shore-Based Metro Survey. To effectively interview fishers along the shoreline, we randomise the time of day that we arrive at a beach. That way, our researchers have a random chance of arriving when the beach is completely empty or absolutely packed with fishers. They day type (weekday, weekend and public holidays), locations surveyed and the starting point of each survey are also randomised.

Although we do randomise much of our research, some surveys aim to discover very specific information. For these types of surveys, we don’t have to randomise everything. However, it’s important that we understand that the ways we collect information can affect how we interpret the data and use it to inform management decisions.

Privacy and Consent
All surveys are voluntary. DPIRD researchers and interviewers at the Survey Research Centre at ECU abide by the Australian Privacy Principles. All information collected from our surveys is treated as confidential and will never be used or published in any personal way.
Survey data are aggregated to produce population estimates. The results of our surveys may be presented at workshops or published in departmental reports and professional journals.

 

 

Last modified: 5/06/2020 12:03 PM

 

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The information and advice provided by the Department of Fisheries website is made in good faith and is from sources believed to be reliable and accurate at the time of release onto the website. Changes in circumstances after a document is placed on the website may affect the accuracy of the information. Full disclaimer details are available at www.fish.wa.gov.au.