The Blue Swimmer Crabs of Peel Harvey
Now in the depths of a Perth winter, I’d like to talk about a slightly warmer outreach trip to Mandurah back in March where I caught up with Damien Bell, a second generation fisherman of the Peel Harvey Estuarine Fishery. With the renowned Mandurah Crab Fest just a few days after my visit, Blue Swimmer Crabs (Portunus armatus) were to be the focus of today’s fishing efforts. Also known as Blue Manna Crabs or simply as Blueys, this fishery, just an hour south of Perth is well known for both its recreational and commercial components. In 2015, both the recreational and commercial crab fisheries entered into the MSC assessment process. This is the first time in the world a co-managed commercial and recreational fishery has sought certification to use the MSC ecolabel. We follow them on that journey and take a quick look at what makes this fishery so unique.
Fishing a maximum of 42 pots on a daily basis, this blue swimmer crab fishery remains pretty much unchanged over the 5 generations of fishers working in the Peel Harvey. With technology on the boat limited to an outboard engine and the skippers iPhone, the fishery operates by finding the pots by sight with no plotter, sonar or radar to be seen. One of the simplest forms of fishing is backed up with one of the most robust management regimes in WA with harvest strategies, bycatch plans and compliance programs being implemented to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the fishery. This all adds up when the fishery is subjected to an MSC assessment. The MSC’s environmental standard is not easily achieved but the hard work of the commercial and recreational fishers, the managers and research scientists will hopefully see this fishery achieve MSC certification in January 2016.
Globally, small scale fisheries will face unique challenges within the world of commercial fishing. Often poorly supported by management and research (due to a perceived low value and/or importance) and with a fragmented fleet of individual owner/operators, working together to make the most of a smaller catch can be difficult. However in direct contradiction to the norm for small scale fisheries, the Peel Harvey crab fishers have come together under the Mandurah Licensed Fishermen’s Association (MLFA) to tackle issues facing their fisheries head-on. This gives them a unified voice when working on gaining market access, addressing stakeholder concerns or indeed engaging in the MSC process.
“MSC is about building a social licence to operate, to help educate the consumer about the fact their seafood is being caught in a sustainable manner.”
Damien Bell, Second Generation Peel Harvey Commercial Fisherman
Interested stakeholders were invited to engage in the site visit for this MSC assessment which took place in Mandurah back in April 2015. The next engagement opportunity for stakeholders interested in the sustainability of the Peel Harvey crab fishery will be when the assessment team release a draft MSC certification report in November 2015. This allows for stakeholders to input on the draft outcomes of this fishery against the MSC criteria for sustainable fishing and make sure they are comfortable with the outcomes of the MSC assessment.
Fisheries Officer – Oceania & SE Asia
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