Some anglers call estuary perch ‘the barra of the south’.
It’s true, too, that the enigmatic ‘EP’ is one of Victoria’s best all-around sportfish. Although not nearly as big as barra, they are similarly reclusive, elusive, hard-fighting snag-dwellers that strike ferociously at all manner of lures including surface lures and flies.
Don’t tell anyone, but they are also great on the plate. To top it off they are a schooling species, which means that once you’ve found one you’ll probably find lots.
It is the fact that they are at times caught in large numbers that has some experienced estuary perch anglers worried. Most keen anglers release the vast majority of the EP they land, but it’s fair to say that at the hands of unscrupulous fishers the estuary perch is a species that could lend itself to over-exploitation. That’s the reason passionate perch fishos are often extremely secretive about what they do on their weekends!
Scientists from the Fisheries Research Branch of the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) are also keen to make sure that estuary perch are being managed sustainably. It’s not surprising, then, that scientists have teamed up with top perch anglers in a unique research project aimed at securing the future of estuary perch in Andersons Inlet, one of Victoria’s most popular EP fisheries.
As part of the Diary Angler Program, senior Fisheries researcher, Simon Conron, has enlisted around six of the state’s best EP anglers to help keep an eye on what’s happening with the perch population in Andersons Inlet, near Inverloch.
“It seems obvious now”, says Simon, “that if we want information about the abundance of perch in Andersons Inlet we should go to those people who encounter them most frequently – the anglers”.
“Volunteer diary anglers are provided with a diary and a ruler. Then, each time they fish, they record the length of all the perch they land. The diaries are collected every 12 months or 20 trips, whichever comes first. The information is invaluable for determining whether perch populations are increasing or decreasing, and what year classes are present. We can also look back and see which years were the most successful spawning years and what the conditions were in those years.”
One of the most active diary anglers is Keysborough-based Martin Fellows. He fishes for estuary perch at least every fortnight, sometimes more, and his favourite waterway is ‘Ando’, as he refers to Andersons Inlet. Martin catches dozens of perch every year, so it’s little wonder he was recruited especially to the program.
Martin fishes almost exclusively from a kayak, and only ever uses lures – mostly hardbodied lures and the odd soft plastic. He releases all the estuary perch he catches. For the Diary Angler Program, Martin not only records the number and length of the perch he lands, but also the prevailing conditions such as water clarity, tides and barometer readings, as well as the method of fishing.
“It’s a great program to be involved in because it’s a way of giving something back to the sport,” says Martin.
“We get heaps of support, with regular phone calls from Fisheries, and the diaries are always sent back to us so we can keep the information. It’s also nice to know Fisheries are using anglers to keep track of fish numbers rather than using nets”.
According to Martin, keeping a dairy also helps him catch more fish – if that’s possible!
“Being able to refer back to the diary and see what the best conditions were last time allows me to catch fish more consistently,” says Martin.
“Not only that, but it also trains you to be more observant of what’s going on around you”.
So, does having to measure and record his perch become a hassle in the middle of a hot bite? “Not really,” says Martin. “I always use barbless hooks so it’s pretty simple to unhook the fish, measure it, scribble down the details and slip it back into the water. I usually take a quick photo as well.”
The big question is, ‘what are the results showing’? The program started in 2007/08, so to date there are only four years data. Nevertheless the results so far are very encouraging from recreational anglers’ point of view. The data paints a picture of a healthy fishery with good catch rates of between two and five perch landed per hour of angler effort.
There is also a wide range of different-sized perch present in Andersons Inlet, with fish from 9-53cm being reported, from up to 12 different year classes. This includes a substantial proportion of fish over 10 years of age, and some up to 30 years old (fish age has been related to fish length in previous otolith dissection studies).
“The high number of year classes show good spawning success in most years,” says Simon.
“This is consistent with what we know about the spawning requirements of perch. As long as the entrance is open there is a high probability of successful spawning. We need a longer time series of data to make sure, but at the moment the data shows that recreational fishing for estuary perch in Andersons Inlet is sustainable.”
That’s a good thing, too, seeing as Andersons Inlet is a recreational fishing haven with no commercial fishing allowed.
The data also provide an insight into the high regard in which estuary perch are held by anglers. Even though 81% of EP landed were over the legal minimum length, 89% were released anyway. That contrasts with other species like King George whiting and trevally, of which the majority are kept. As Simon notes, though, the diary anglers are specialists who target perch more often than most anglers.
But what about the elephant in the room? What if future angler catch rates showed estuary perch stocks decreasing? The answer is that such information would trigger an evidence-based review of EP management strategies including sustainable catch limits and legal minimum lengths to ensure that fishing continues on a sustainable basis. And that is exactly what recreational anglers want!
The Diary Angler Program is also undertaken in several other important recreational fisheries around the state to assess the stocks of important recreational species. At present nearly 300 volunteer anglers are involved. The program is funded by Recreational Fishing Licence revenue and DPI.
WANT TO SIGN UP?
The Diary Angler Program is on-going and more volunteers are needed for Andersons Inlet. If estuary perch are your thing and you’re interested in being part of the program, contact Pam Oliveiro, Fisheries Victoria (Research Branch), Queenscliff, 5258 0111
For further information about the Diary Angler Program go to www.dpi.vic.gov.au/fisheries/recreational-fishing
The current legal minimum length for estuary perch is 27cm total length. The bag limit is 5 estuary perch per angler per day, of which no more than 2 may be Australian bass.