The commercial fishery for wrasse was established in the 1990s when a domestic market based on live trade to restaurants and seafood outlets was created.
Key elements of the wrasse fishery
Blue-throat wrasse, Notolabrus tetricus
Saddled (or purple) wrasse, Notolabrus fucicola
The fishery extends the entire length of the Victorian coastline and out to 20 nautical miles (with the exception of marine reserves)
Line fishing (other than longline), rock lobster pots if also in possession of a Rock Lobster Access Fishing Licence
Gear limits and restrictions, size limits
Maximum number of licences
Legal minimum length
28cm for blue-throat wrasse, 23cm for all other species
The Victorian Wrasse Fishery is based on three species: blue-throat wrasse (Notolabrus tetricus), saddled wrasse (Notolabrus fucicola) and orange-spotted wrasse (Notolabrus parilus), with blue-throat wrasse being the primary focus.
Blue-throat wrasse is the most abundant wrasse species in south eastern Australian waters. All species of wrasse however, are highly susceptible to fishing pressure due to their near-shore accessibility, highly territorial nature with limited home ranges and life history. This is particularly the case in the life history of blue-throat wrasse, which includes sequential hermaphroditism (changing from female to male in response to a combination of factors including social structure and size or age of individuals) and a male maintaining a harem of females.
Wrasse are fished along the entire Victorian coast but in recent years, catches have been the highest off the central coast (Port Phillip Heads, Western Port, and Wilsons's Promontory) and west coast of Victoria (Portland). Catches of saddled wrasse are highest in the Western part of Victoria, which is thought to be related to a greater proportion of suitable reef habitat in this area.
Under an Offshore Constitutional Settlement agreement with the Commonwealth Government, the Wrasse Fishery extends out to 20 nautical miles off the Victorian coastline.
The fishing method
Wrasse are predominantly taken by handlines, which ensures they are captured in optimum condition to be sold into the live domestic market. The preferred depths for blue-throat wrasse are between 20 to 40m. Saddled wrasse are generally found in slightly shallower waters of approximately 10 to 30m.
Some fishers have used traps, such as rock lobster pots, however this is considered to be a less efficient method compared with hooking by handline. Historically, wrasse were considered a low value product and were commonly used as bait in lobster pots.
There are currently 22 Ocean (Wrasse) Fishery Access Licences (OWFAL) issued under the Fisheries Act 1995.
As of 1 April 2017, Wrasse (Ocean) Fishery Access Licences can legally be traded and leased on the open market. This initiative represents an important milestone in the future development of the fishery and the industry that it supports.
Harvesting of wrasse is managed in accordance with the harvest strategy attached below. The strategy is a key component of the future management
of the wrasse fishery. It provides a formal and structured framework to guide decision-making for the fishery and sets out how we will respond in the event of significant changes to fishing effort or the status of wrasse stocks in Victoria.
Other controls on the fishery include:
- A legal minimum size: blue-throat wrasse must be at least 28cm total length, all other species of wrasse must be a minimum of 27cm in length.
- Gear restrictions: No more than 6 fishing lines can be used at one time and these must not have more than 3 hooks attached. The use of longlines is not permitted.
After a rapid rise in catch levels in the 1990s to a peak of just under 90 tonnes in 1998/99, catches stabilised to between 40 and 50 tonnes during the period of 2000 to 2004. With the decrease in effort as a result of fewer licences, catches then fell again between 30 to 40 tonnes during 2005 to 2009. Since that time, catches have been between 20 – 30 tonnes (see Figure 1).
The number of licences in the fishery has been reduced from 58 in 1998 to 23 in 2013.