The Kalbarri Classic is in limbo
One of Western Australia’s most popular community fishing competitions, the Kalbarri Classic, is in limbo as the Fisheries Minister contemplates measures to manage key demersal species such as dhufish and pink snapper.
Minister Don Punch is expected to make an announcement on future management of this fishery, which covers around 100 species in total, by the end of the next month.
There has been huge backlash to the initial Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development proposal for a demersal fishing ban of eight or nine months from Augusta to Kalbarri, with more than 18,000 concerned people signing a petition against the plans that was tabled in State Parliament.
The uncertainty is a major problem for the Kalbarri Offshore and Angling Club (KOAC), which traditionally holds the Kalbarri Classic in early March.
The three-day event has been running for almost 40 years, slotting neatly into the Labour Day long weekend at a time of year when there would otherwise be few visitors to town, the weather is normally suitable and the fishing for both demersals and pelagics can be very good.
However, KOAC president Cheryl Eley doesn’t believe the event will be able to be held in 2023 given likely changes to fishing rules and current uncertainty, and she’s devastated by that likelihood.
“To lose the competition would be absolutely awful,” she said.
“Generations of people have been coming up for the event and it would be another kick in the guts for Kalbarri.
“Sadly, I can’t see it going ahead.”
A family competition, the Classic event normally attracts up 250 people and up to 60 boats, with 127 competing this year.
It includes offshore fishing for both pelagics and demersals, as well as a river section, and there are categories for kids, including catch and release options.
Normally planning would be well advanced for 2023, but Cheryl, who has been club president for 18 years, hasn’t been able to do any preparation.
“We’d normally be well advanced in planning now and be locking in major sponsors,” she explained.
“We’ve had sponsors contact us and we really can’t give them an answer.
“A lot of work goes into these competitions and we can’t do anything at the moment.
“It’s very sad, as the competition is great for the town and a timely boost for local business, as it is normally very quiet from the end of January until April.”
Cheryl said the KOAC was trying to find alternative dates but it was proving almost impossible.
“We are considering all options, but finding an equally satisfactory time of year is problematic due to weather, school holidays and even the fishing seasons,” she said.
Losing the competition would indeed be another blow for the Kalbarri community, which has been rebuilding after the devastation of Cyclone Seroja in 2021.
Cheryl said losing the event would also cast a dark cloud over the future of the club, which she believes still plays an important role in a local community where fishing is a way of life.
She said the KOAC was very proactive in promoting responsible fishing, including to kids through events like its annual whiting competition, with strong messaging on catch care, catch and release, and conservation.
The club has also played an important role in pushing for local infrastructure improvements such as the finger jetty, upgrades to the boat ramp and fish filleting tables, as well as running educational events around fishing.
Cheryl also said the importance of fishing for mental health was evidence during the worst days of Covid.
While Cheryl understands the need to protect fish stocks, she believes there are better ways than the drastic closures currently proposed.
“Demersal fishing is a huge part of the lifestyle of Kalbarri, both for locals and visitors,” she said as she contemplated the future of the Kalbarri Classic. “We’ve survived floods, fires and flies, Covid and a cyclone, but maybe not this Fisheries Minister.”