South West fishing charter operators have slammed a major overhaul of demersal fishing limits across WA as “demoralising” and “completely unsustainable,” and say they threaten to wipe out the industry. WA’s keen fishing community was this month rocked when the State Government announced a raft of new rules governing fishing between Augusta and Kalbarri. Recreational fishing for prized demersal species like dhufish and snapper in the west coast bioregion will be banned for six months a year, split into three blocks. A new bag limit of four per boat will also be introduced, replacing the current rule allowing each licensed fisher on a vessel to catch two fish. A new tag system will also limit the number of fish allowed to be caught in a year. Dunsborough-based Legend Charters owner Paul Cross told the Times he was now facing telling groups of 10 clients they could only catch one fish each, slamming the new rules as “completely unsustainable”. It follows an already tough decision to sell his main charter vessel after the uncertainty of the past 18 months made it impossible to run his $750,000 per year business. “The writing was on the wall,” Mr Cross said. Mr Cross was a member of the advisory group which failed to influence the WA Government’s decision to introduce new limits on catches as well as demersal fishing seasons which effectively chopped most charter businesses in half. He also said talks of diversification and eco-tourism options went nowhere. “We’ve closed down — they wouldn’t give us any answers,” Mr Cross said. “With the stress and anxiety of having a $500,000 vessel tied up, we just opted to opt out and put (the business) on ice for 12 months to see if it’s a feasible thing to continue and now we see it’s not.” WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said the move — which will come into effect next year until 2030 — would preserve fish stocks and enable West Aussies to enjoy the popular past-time for years ahead. Although he did not rule out further restrictions if fish stocks did not improve by 2030. But charter fishers across the State said the changes adversely affected their businesses while the State Government fixated on the recreational fishing sector. Bunbury-based Big Stoinka Marine Adventures owners Damien and Adam Billi did not anticipate such drastic changes. They have been running their business for 12 months, but now face being the only operator left in Bunbury and Dunsborough. “It affects all of us,” Damien Billi said. “We’re lucky that we’re a smaller outfit and only take six people fishing at a time. “It might not be worth doing when the Government brings in the tag quota system next July for the charter operators. “The decision making in protecting the fish stocks is crazy. There are plenty of other ways to protect our fish.” Mr Billi said the changes were “demoralising” to the fishing community. “We also have serious concerns with the latest WA Auditor General’s report on the shortcomings in the efficiency of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and its fisheries officers,” he said. “Geographe Bay is a nursery for our demersal fish like dhufish, baldchin groper and breaksea cod which will be targeted and fished out.” WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said the Government was acting to safeguard the future of demersal scalefish stocks in the west coast bioregion and was part of a $10 million State Government effort to do so. “The best way to ensure long-term viability of the charter sector is to protect and recover the fishery that businesses depend on,” he said. “This ($10m) includes $500,000 for a charter fishing business assistance scheme to help licence holders pivot to alternative marine tourism experiences and $260,000 for regulatory reform that will benefit the sector.” Mr Cross said charter fishing brought in $1 million in value per tonne of fish caught, compared to about $25,000 for the same commercial industry catch. But the window for fishing in the Capes region was too tight, with the midwinter season coming into effect while conditions were too rough for charter companies to be viable.