The Western Rock Lobster industry is an iconic, world-class fishery that is based on the spiny lobster (Panulirus cygnus) along Western Australia’s coast between Shark Bay and Cape Leeuwin.
The industry comprises of some 230 vessels who use baited pots to fish for rock lobster, which are primarily sold by air freight into China and within the domestic market. It is Western Australia’s most valuable fishery, with an estimated value of $400 million, and has historically been Australia’s most valuable single-species wild capture fishery.
The Western Rock Lobster fishery was the world’s first fishery to be certified as ecologically sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2000 in recognition of the high environmental values and sustainable practices maintained by members. In 2017, it met the necessary requirements and was able to renew its MSC certification for the fourth time.
MSC is the world’s most respected independent fisheries sustainability certification standard which reviews the fishery based on stock assessment and harvest strategy, the impact of the fishery on the wider ecology and management and consultation arrangements.
In the earlier days the West Coast Rock Lobster fishery operated as an input fishery (total allowable effort) and the commercial harvest averaged 11,000 tonnes per annum. Market supply was governed by catchability of lobster, sometimes resulting in over supply and lower prices.
After a number of years of below average recruitment (puerulus) attributed to lowered breeding stocks in the deepwater and northern part of the fishery, 2008 was the lowest recruitment on record. This acted as a catalyst for change and in 2009, in close consultation with the Department of Fisheries, industry moved towards a regulated output management system through a quota system to ensure the sustainability of rock lobster stocks.
In 2015, the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) was 6,000 tonnes, a significant reduction in the volume of lobster previously taken. For each commercial fishing season, the TACC across all zones is set annually. The quota can vary, depending on numerous factors, such as the success of puerulus settlement.
Quota management measures have brought a significant reduction in the number of pots being used in the fishery, which in turn has significantly reduced its impact on the surrounding ecosystem and marine animals. The fishing season has been extended from 7.5 months to 12 months, which has maximised individual fisher’s efficiencies and given the market a consistent and stable supply all year round.