THE Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) is unlikely to grant Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s plea to ban the taking of spider crabs from May to July.
The council wrote to Fishing and Boating Minister Melissa Horne seeking the spatial ban to protect the crabs during their annual aggregation off Rye and Blairgowrie.
Copies of the request were forwarded to Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, as well as peninsula federal and state MPs.
Although it was unclear last week whether the authority had received the request, the VFA’s Dallas D’Silva told The News there were “lots of crabs for fishers and divers to enjoy – now and into the future”.
“The VFA encourages recreational fishers and divers to enjoy this amazing natural phenomenon again this year, if an aggregation of the crabs again occurs near one of these accessible piers,” Mr D’Silva said.
“We encourage recreational fishers to enjoy fishing for spider crabs with family and friends.”
Fishers needed a recreational fishing licence and to “follow the fishing rules”.
Cr Sarah Race’s notice-of-motion calling for the crab fishing ban carried at the 18 May council meeting aimed to reinforce the shire’s advocacy for the crabs’ protection “and the desire of our local community to have a no-take season”.
“The spider crab aggregation is one of the marine world’s great wonders, as highlighted by David Attenborough,” Cr Race stated in the agenda.
“Our community has been disturbed by the taking of the crabs during this period – not only due to the sheer number crabbed, but also with the detritus left over afterwards, such as chicken carcasses.”
An existing fishing exclusion zone prohibits the taking of rays, skates and guitar fish within 400 metres of any man-made structure, such as piers. The notice-of-motion was, in effect, asking that an additional fisheries notice be issued for spider crabs.
Cr Race added: “This is a phenomenon that should be celebrated, not decimated.”
Cr David Gill successfully added that officers organise a publicity plan to highlight the spider crab phenomenon and the need for an exclusion zone.
Shire coastal planner Zachary Grimes said that, in June last year, the council had moved: “That urgent action be taken by the chief executive officer to help ensure that the seasonal congregation of spider crabs occurring now in the Rye area be protected from illegal poaching.”
The council had then written to the state government detailing community and user groups’ concerns with the overfishing of spider crabs during their annual moulting event. It pleaded for a reduced bag limit, education campaigns with interpretive signage “aimed at all coastal users” and tabled the measure of a winter ‘closed season’ to secure the sustainability of the event.
In October, the Victorian Fisheries Authority reduced catch limits from 30 to 15.
Shire officers recently met with the VFA which agreed to supply additional bins and install educational signs this crab season. Its officers will also provide information, education and enforcement at crab hot spots.
“Advocacy efforts for a closed season or spatial ban have not been successful at the officer level to date,” Mr Grimes admitted.
Winter aggregations of crabs at the southern end of the bay usually occur in late May or June. The timing is thought to be associated with the full moon and water temperature. Crab aggregations do not always occur at the same places year to year. None had arrived by late last week.