Port Phillip Bay whiting stocks will dip scientists warn

Small juvenile King George whiting sampled from Port Phillip Bay seagrass beds in spring. Image: Fisheries Victoria

AFTER several years of poor King George whiting fishing in Port Phillip Bay anglers have enjoyed a bumper season, however, the high quality fishing is likely to be short-lived given surveys have detected very poor juvenile whiting numbers in seagrass nurseries in 2014 and 2015.

Fisheries Victoria executive director, Travis Dowling, said natural climate-driven variation in juvenile whiting numbers that settle in the bay was entirely normal, but consecutive poor years would prolong the downturn and make it more noticeable to anglers.

“The downturn’s impact will be lessened given that 87 per cent of the commercial netting catch for species also targeted by recreational anglers, including King George whiting, has now been removed from the bay as part of the State Government’s “Target One Million” plan, which aims to get more people fishing, more often,” Dowling said.

“It’s unfortunate we have experienced two years in a row of poor whiting settlement in the bay, which will impact stocks of takeable size whiting between 2017 and 2019. Much the same can be expected in Western Port,” he said.

These surveys, undertaken annually in spring by fisheries scientists, sample little whiting of 2-3cm in seagrass beds shortly after they enter Port Phillip Bay from coastal spawning sites well to the west.

The abundance of these little whiting allows us to forecast future trends in the bay whiting fishery, enabling everyone to understand what the fishery will look like ahead of time.

The juvenile whiting take about two years to grow to 27cm, which is legal minimum size. They then leave the bays by age three to four and complete their adult life in ocean waters.

This type of life-cycle contributes to a highly variable fishery that’s largely dependent on the magnitude of juvenile settlement in the shallows several years prior.

Mr Dowling said the terrific King George whiting fishing experienced by anglers in the bay recently was thanks to a strong settlement of tiny whiting in 2013 that had now grown and entered the fishery.

“While we expect good fishing to continue into next summer and autumn, whiting catches will likely drop noticeably by the 2017 summer,” he said.

Anglers are reminded that the daily bag limit on King George whiting is 20 per person and that they should be landed whole so Fisheries Officers can measure them if required.

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