Pot design a game changer for rock lobster industry
Changing the design of lobster pots will increase catch efficiency for the Southern rock lobster fishers, a six-year project has found.
The Southern Rock Lobster Fishery is a major part of SA's seafood industry. Photo: supplied.
The project, which ran between 2016 and 2022, is the largest data sampling project in the history of the South Australian Rock Lobster Fishery.
The collaborative effort by the South Australian Research and Development Institute, PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association (NZRLFA), the South Eastern Professional Fishermen’s Association and Southern Rock Lobster Limited looked at which lobster pot was the most efficient and increased catch.
The existing pot types used in the northern and southern management zones are called beehive pots – a dome-shaped pot constructed of a wire frame over which wire, or cane, is woven.
The project, resulting in data from a total of 14,537 individual pot lifts, found the greatest potential for an increase in catch efficiency was to switch to the Western Australian batten pot – a rectangular pot with tapered sides and a single entrance on top.
Executive Officer of NZRLFA Kyriakos Toumazos said the new pot type ensures higher retention of legal-size lobsters while reducing by-catch compared to the traditional beehive pots.
“[Fishers] that adopt the new pot design will be looking at an efficiency gain of approximately 30 per cent,” Toumazos said.
“It’s the only way to operate in an output control fishery, where you’re managing the efficiency gains that you’re achieving rather than dealing with things you can’t control, like the market.
“You’re also burning 30 per cent less diesel… so when you marry up all these efficiencies, you’re actually creating a much more improved environmental footprint.”
The Southern Rock Lobster industry is one of the biggest seafood sectors in South Australia.
The fishery contributes $83 million annually to the state’s economy.
With the new season less than a month away for the northern zone, Toumazos is hoping to see more vessels in the wider fishery make the transition to the WA batten pot.
“We’re starting the 2023/24 season on the first of November with the project finalised… So we’re hoping that in the first year there’ll be a considerable uptake of about 20 to 25 per cent of the alternative pot.
“In the next three to four years we’re hoping that the whole industry moves over to it.”
Toumazos explained the main barrier to converting to the WA batten pot and accompanying gear is the cost which is why, so far, only nine vessels have made the switch.
“You’re looking at approximately $60,000 to $100,000 worth of lobster gear [per vessel] … that cost in one season is considerably expensive,” he said.
This year, lobster season in the Southern Zone began on September 1 and will commence in the Northern Zone on November 1.
Starting in 2024, both the Northern and Southern Zone will commence lobster season on September 1.
The Southern Zone covers the waters from the mouth of the Murray River to the Victorian border, while the Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery extends from the Murray mouth to the Western Australian border.