Western Port Fishery Assessment 2015 Recreational Fishing Grants Program
The recent trend for the recreational snapper fishery, as seen in boat ramp surveys and angler diaries, has been a
decline in catch rates since the peak in 2012–2013 (Figures 11and 12). The most recent catch rate data in 2014/15 is
now just below the long-term average and well below the highest catch rates since the data collection began in 1998/99
(Figures. 11and 12).
Pre-recruit surveys in Port Phillip Bay (the main nursery area that supplies larger snapper to Western Port, Hamer et al.
2011) showed above average abundances of 0+ age snapper in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and prior to that, average to
above average numbers from 2007/08 to 2009/10 (Figure 13). These cohorts should support increasing catch rates of
smaller pinkie and adult snapper in Western Port over the coming years. The adult snapper fishery in Western Port (fish
>40 cm TL) in 2014 was still dominated by the two historically large cohorts emanating from spawning in 2000/01 and
2003/4 (Figures. 13 and14).
Catches of adult snapper in better performing years were characterised by catches of at least 3 fish per boat by
about 30% of trips surveyed and catches of at least 5 fish for about 20% of trips (
Figure 15). Catches of “pinkie” snapper in better performing years were characterised by catches of at least 3
fish per boat for about 50% of trips and at least 5 fish by about 40% of trips (
Length-frequency data from the diary anglers in 2012/13 shows modes at 33, 37, and 45 cm TL; (Figure. 16) that mostly
likely correspond to the three average to above average cohorts from the Port Phillip Bay pre-recruit survey (i.e. 2009/10,
2008/09 and 2007/08; Figure. 13). The overall length ranges and composition for 2013/14 and 2014/15 show new
recruitment of small snapper between 18-25 cm and a broad range of lengths to a maximum of 95 cm (Figure. 16).
Overall, based on pre-recruit and catch rate indicators, the Western Port snapper fishery is considered to be at around
average levels but with an increase in catch rates, particularly of smaller fish, expected over the coming 1-3 years (Table
Flathead (all species)
Recreational catch rates for flathead (all species, but dominated by sand flathead) in Western Port have been below the
long-term average from 2012/13 to 2014/15 but since 1998 have been highly variable, with four peaks periods: 1998,
2001-2002, 2006, 2010-2011 (Figure 17). The recent drop in catch rates is therefore not unusual or likely to be indicative
of ongoing decline.
Length-frequency data has been consistent since 2012/13 with the notable exception of the numbers of smaller flathead
(<25 cm L) appearing in the 2013/14 sample. This indicates some new recruitment into the fishery which should support
increased catch rates in coming years (Figure 18).
Overall, based on catch rate and size-frequency indicators, the stock is considered to be at around average levels with
an expected increase in catch rates of legal flathead over the next 1-3 years (Table 4).
Catch rates of gummy shark for the boat ramp and angler diary programs have increased since 2011 (Figure 19 and
Figure 20). However, while the boat ramp surveys indicate recent catch rates that are above the long-term average and a
notable peak in 2013, the diary angler catch rates were only just at the long-term average in 2014/15 and did not show a
peak above the long-term average in 2013 (Figure 19, 20). Both programs, however, show peaks in catch rates around
2009-2010. In the better catch rate years (2010, 2013) for the boat ramp surveys, anglers retained 1 or more gummy
shark per boat trip on 50-60% of targeted gummy shark trips (Figure. 21). Length-frequency data for gummy shark is
limited in terms of numbers of samples per year but has been consistent since 2010/11 (
Interpretation of catch rates for gummy sharks in the boat ramp surveys is complicated by the low daily bag limit of two
fish (gummy shark/ school shark combined) per person. The two catch rate time series, however, indicate that the status
of gummy shark is consistent with the long-term average (Table 4).
Elephant fish catch rates for the boat ramp surveys have declined continuously since 2007 and were at the lowest
recorded in 2014/15 (Figure 23). Interpreting this data is, however, challenging because the daily bag limit was reduced
from 3 to 1 in 2008. This effectively caps the catch and, based on comments made at the workshop, has been a
disincentive for targeted fishing as indicated by a reduction in targeted elephant fish trips since 2008, particularly in the
east of Western Port (Figure 24).