Sustainable Fishing Education Project for Roebuck Bay

Practical ways to increase recreational fishing sustainability in our important Ramsar listed Bay. Delivered by fishers, to fishers. This information package contains all the helpful hints, tips and information on how to minimise your fishing impact on the fish populations and habitat, fish sustainably and minimise your impact on Roebuck Bay.

This project is co-managed by Fishers for Conservation and Environs Kimberley through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the Caring for our Country program, Yawuru Traditional Custodians, DEC, Fisheries, The Roebuck Bay Working Group, SeagrassWatch Broome and other project partners.


Project Overview:

Recreational fishing is a key use of the Roebuck Bay environment and fishers are a large, important and currently under-engaged group interacting with this critical aquatic habitat and Ramsar site. Identified priorities for protection of this crucial coastal environment are addressed by this project. This project applies established experience in recreational fishing education to increase the participation of the community in sustaining the environmental values of Roebuck Bay. The information has been developed and delivered in partnership the Yawuru people and other project partners (Govt. agencies, NRM, NGO's, community groups), and incorporates the most up to date scientific advice.

The key product of this project is an information pack containing information sheets developed by FFC, EK, Yawuru Traditional Owners and other project partners. This information pask is available online (here), in local tackle stores, caravan parks and other businesses and is hand delivered locally by Yawuru/DEC rangers and volunteer fishers to anglers at beaches, boat ramps and the jetty.

Information sheets:

The information sheets are available as .pdf downloads and the content is reproduced below for easy reference and internet searchability.

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Sheet 1 and 2 .pdf download

Sheet 3 and 4 .pdf download

Sheet 5 and 6 .pdf download


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"Roebuck Bay means many things to many people – to some it’s an ancestral home to which they have continuing responsibilities and a place to hunt, fish and collect shellfish; to others its importance lies in its status as one of the most important migratory shorebird sites in Australia. For many people it is simply a place to relax and unwind; for others it’s a place from which to earn a living..." Neil McKenzie Yawuru Traditional Owner.

mapRoebuck Bay is the heart of Yawuru nagulagun buru; Yawuru sea country; the coastal region where Yawuru people have lived and hunted for thousands of years, and the centre of life and activity for the township of Broome.

Roebuck Bay covers an area of 550km², stretching from Broome to Sandy Point. The tidal range is 0–10.5m, and 160km² of mud flats are exposed on low spring tides. These intertidal mudflats support an exceptionally high diversity of benthic invertebrates (worms, shellfish and other creatures), which are an essential food resource for birds, fish and marine animals. The Bay and mudflats are an internationally important site for at least 29 species of migratory waders and shorebirds; approximately 300,000 fly in each year to rest, feed and recuperate before returning to China’s Yellow Sea and Siberia, where they breed. The loss and destruction of habitat for these birds across the world increases the importance of Roebuck Bay. Key roosting and feeding sites include the northern beaches, Bush Point, low-lying coastal Roebuck Plains grasslands and Lake Eda. The mangrove thickets lining the eastern side of the Bay are dissected by muddy creeks flowing from Roebuck Plains and provide an ideal home, nursery, feeding and breeding area for many marine creatures and shorebirds.

Conservation Significance

birsd• Roebuck Bay is a wetland of international significance and was declared a Ramsar site in 1990.

• It was listed on the National Heritage Register in 2011.

• The intertidal mudflats are listed as a Vulnerable (Category B) Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) by the State.

• The Bay is the site of a proposed Marine Park.

• The Ramsar and Intertidal areas are conservation estate managed by Yawuru and DEC.

humpbackLike all Yawuru country Nagulagun comes from Bugarrigarra (the dreaming) and includes all that lives in the sea: the fishes, turtles, dugongs, the habitats they live in: the seabed, the reffs, the sandbar, the mangroves, and the seagrass beds. The current, the tides and whirlpools of saltwater country are all part of Nagulagun.

Roebuck Bay is a major nursery for marine fish and crustaceans. Dugongs and turtles feed on the extensive seagrass meadows, while Dolphins and Humpback Whales use the Bay to feed, socialize or rest. The bay supports the largest known population of rare Australian Snubfin Dolphins. Identified as a new species in 2005, they are Australia’s only endemic dolphin. Scientists wanting to learn more about them have photographed and catalogued 161 individual dolphins in Roebuck Bay, out of an estimated Australia-wide population of 1000.

Caption: Whales and other marine life traditionally co-exist with fishers but approaching too close can threaten the balance. A startled or threatened whale can put you and your crew at risk. (See information included in this pack for advice on safe distance and angles of approach to whales)



turtleCaption: A turtle with floating sickness will eventually starve to death as it cannot dive to feed. If you find a sick turtle, contact and take to Chelonia Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release. 0407945660,

Roebuck Bay is under pressure from the many users and activities including; residential expansion and urban runoff, tourism, pearling, industrial and recreational boat use, agricultural and industrial developments, commercial and recreational fishing. Together, these are all having an impact on marine life. “No longer is there the abundance of fish, or shellfish that we used to harvest daily from the foreshore. Cockles are no longer present in the Bay. The seagrass beds are diminishing and it is much harder to catch salmon from the foreshore.” Planning for the future: Yawuru Cultural Management Plan, 2011. Local s have noticed fish stocks of Threadfin Salmon, Barramundi and Mangrove Jack and Mud Crab in the bay decline, as well as Dugong. Increased population and access means that human activities are having an impact, and now more than ever sustainable fishing practises are needed. It’s got to the point where some locals now refer to Crab Creek as No Crab Creek! Wet season rainwater that once soaked back into the earth is now flushed from streets and roofs and drained into the Bay, along with a cocktail of fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, oil, dog poo, silt and rubbish, polluting the salt marsh, the mangrove and creek systems, the Bay and all its marine life. These pollutants may also come from boats and larger vessels, and can cause many problems, including Lyngbya blooms (see image right),jelly jellyfish blooms and floating sickness in our endangered marine turtle populations. With so many emerging threats it is crucial that we set the right example and minimise recreational fishing impacts on the bay to ensure healthy habitats and fish stocks for our fishing future.

Caption: Blooms of the Sea Tomato Jellyfish Crambione mastigophora were recorded in Roebuck Bay in 2012 are attributed to overfishing, coastal construction, pollution and climate change. Worryingly, they likely eat fish eggs, larvae and larval fish food.


lyngbiaCaption: A Seagrass monitoring officer examines a Lyngbya bloom in Roebuck Bay.

keep our bay cleanLyngbya majuscula is a toxic bluegreen alga that has been appearing in large blooms in Roebuck Bay since 2005. Lyngbia growth is promoted by increases in nutrient levels from sediments and pollutants. The algal blooms smother seagrass, reducing its growth and affecting fish breeding, and turtle and dugong feeding. Lyngbya is toxic to many marine animals, birds & humans. As it decays, Lyngbya reduces dissolved oxygen in the sea and increases nutrient levels, often feeding more Lyngbya blooms. Lyngbia outbreaks have a bad effect on fishing, as fish die or avoid affected areas. It is important that the Broome Community reduces the amount of sediments, nutrients and pollutants washing into the Bay. When fishing make sure you don’t leave any rubbish in the bay.



redcliffsRoebuck Bay has always been a popular place for fishing. Long before the town of Broome was established, the Yawuru people of Roebuck Bay hunted, fished and collected shellfish for thousands of years, fishing sustainably through a complex relationship governed not by departments or commerce but by cultural law, nature and the six seasons. Customary fishing has open and closed seasons on all species based on their lifecycles. In general, fish species are traditionally hunted in the seasons when they are in prime condition, high abundance or outside of breeding times. Under this seasonal framework, fish stocks are maintained at a sustainable level without bag or size limits.

Customary fishing in Roebuck Bay is also mainly done from shore with spear, net or line, leaving the offshore fish populations unaffected, maintaining sustainable stocks. Customary fishing practises such as hunting protected species (i.e. dugong, turtle and crocodile) are legal, with the Fisheries Act allowing, subject to certain restrictions, ‘a person of Aboriginal descent’ to take ‘in any waters and by any means sufficient fish for food for themself and their family’. Yawuru managers will manage this resource to ensure that the customary harvest is sustainable, let’s manage our recreational harvest to ensure it too is sustainable.


(click image for larger version)

NOTE: Turtle, Dugong, Crocodile and Sawfish are now protected species, with only Aboriginal Custodian Fishing allowed. Information from: Planning for the future: Yawuru Cultural Management Plan, August 2011.



mangrove jackMangrove Jack (Lutjanus agentimaculatus)

There is little known about the Mangrove Jack’s breeding cycle. It is assumed that breeding takes place on the offshore reefs outside of Roebuck Bay where mature fish live and eggs are released into open water. Mangrove Jacks have a lifespan of up to 50 years and reach sexual maturity at 4 to 8 years or when they’re about 55cm in length, which means that most of the Mangrove Jacks caught in the creeks and reefs of Roebuck Bay are immature fish! Threats to Mangrove Jacks include recreational overfishing around populated areas, habitat loss through degradation or destruction of mangroves and seagrass beds.



blueboneBlue bone, Black spot tusk fish (Choerodon schoenleinii)

Bluebone are the opposite of Threadfin and Barra when it comes to changing sex. They start as females then change into males when they’re about 50 cm in length. They are long-lived, reaching sexual maturity in 4 to 5 years and forming semi-resident populations with a large dominant male. Blue Bone are a commonly targeted fish, if all the large males are removed from an area there will be a negative impact on breeding success. This localised depletion has already occurred on some of the reefs of Roebuck Bay! Habitat loss or degradation of reef and important mangrove and seagrass nurseries will affect future fish numbers. Photo Credit: Robert Vaughn




bluenoseBlue Threadfin Salmon (Eleutheronema tetradactylum)

Bluenose Salmon were once abundant in the Bay during the dry season where large schools could be found swimming along the beaches on an incoming tide followed by terns and gulls. A fresh feed of fish could be caught in no time with just a spear; you didn’t even need to be a good shot there were that many. Bluenose Salmon have four pectoral filaments (whiskers), live for about 6 years, mature at 20cm (1yr) as a male, change to female at 40cm and reach about 80cm in length. Breeding season is from September to March. A recent genetic study showed that there is limited movement between local Bluenose stocks, meaning that the population in the Bay is all we have. , if we take all of them then that’s it, there will be no replacements. If we fail to manage commercial and recreational catch there will be no replacements from other areas. Photo credit Rudi Oberholzer



threadfinKing Threadfin Salmon (Polydactylus macrochir)

These fish grow much larger than the bluenose, up to 140cm and live for at least 10 years. They have five long pectoral filaments (whiskers), mature as males at 24cm (1 yr) then change to female between 70 and 110cm. Although not as limited as the bluenose, Giant threadfin also have a self-contained stock structure with limited mixing between adjacent stocks, meaning we need to keep the local population sustainable. The main threats to Threadfin Salmon are commercial netting and recreational fishing as they spend most of their lives in shallow water and are therefore easily targeted. Habitat loss and degradation is the other major threat which is usually associated with human activities like pollution and erosion




mudcrabMud Crabs, Green (Scylla serrata) and Brown (Scylla olivacea)

The mangroves and mudflats of Roebuck Bay are perfect habitat for mud crab adults, with the eggs and larvae spending their time offshore. The two species have different size limits and can only be caught with blunt metal hooks or drop nets under 1.5m diameter, with a maximum of 10 per boat. The main threat to the crab population in Roebuck Bay is us humans through overfishing, pollution, development, erosion, and other activities. Crab Creek is now locally known as No Crab Creek for a reason! Follow fishing regulations and drive your boat slowly along tidal creeks as crab holes can get destroyed by bow waves crashing into the banks. Photo credit: Gary Lienert




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dolphinAs well as being a favourite fishing spot, Roebuck bay is also a favourite breeding and feeding ground for marine mammals and turtles. Many people don’t quite realise how much damage they can cause with their boat, prop or fishing gear. Along with scars from sharks, many of the rare snubfin dolphins in Roebuck bay have scars on their bodies from boat strike or discarded fishing gear (see image, courtesy of Dr.Deb Thiele).

Recommendation 1:Maintain a stable course (no sudden swerving) and drive at less than 5 knots around creeks, mangroves, seagrass and shallow turbid waters; where it’s hard to see and where they like to be

Recommendation 2:Keep a lookout for dolphins, whales, turtle, dugong and other wildlife ahead, slow down or stop (keep engine idling) when dolphins or other wildlife are detected until they are gone

Recommendation 3: Minimise the loss of monofilament line, rope or netting by not fishing up against mangroves or where line will be lost, and make an effort to retrieve your line and hooks

Information source: Collision Course: Snubfin dolphin injuries in Roebuck Bay, WWF and Dr. Deb Thiele


Catching bait-fish, especially in creeks, can reduce future fish stocks as along with baitfish, juvenile fish are caught as by-catch reducing the number that survive to become adults. Most people catch bait with throw-nets, which are effective, once you have mastered the art. Avoid fishing in murky or deeper waters in Barramundi season (September to May), when the Bay becomes a hatchery and nursery to many marine species. Sight-fishing is best, allowing you to avoid non-target fish. Drag-netting or setting fixed nets is illegal and can damage habitat and harm non-target fish and other marine life. These fish are our future fish stocks. Don’t leave unwanted fish on the bank to feed seagulls, and do return juvenile fish to the water as soon as possible.


Using lures instead of live bait when barra-fishing in the creeks protects our bait and juvenile fish stocks. Lures allow you to better target specific species and reduce by-catch. Lures usually hook fish in the mouth and not in the gut, as often happens with live bait. Lures allow for a quick release, especially if you flatten the barbs. Using lures will spare the lives of thousands of little fish that are future big fish.

circle hookCIRCLE HOOKS

Circle hooksare designed to hook fish in the mouth only. Fish swallow the bait and as they swim off, steady pressure on the line pulls the hook into the corner of the mouth. The tip of a circle hook points at the shank, unlike the parallel direction in a standard J-hook, which can hook-up the gut or gill. This minimises damage to unwanted fish and allows for quick and easy hook removal and return to the water of unwanted fish. The trick is to let the fish hook itself. Do not strike to set the hook, which will pull the hook harmlessly out of the fish’s mouth. Circle hooks are ideal on heavy handlines, popular with fishers in the Bay.

Photo credit: Gary Lienert


Nowadays many fishers are practicing catch-and-release fishing, taking only what they need for a feed. Responsible fishers quickly release unwanted by-catch and baitfish, and observe size and bag limits. (size and bag limit information is included in this information package). Unwanted fish or crabs should be returned to the water as quickly as possible. Better still, avoid taking them out of the water at all. If you are lucky enough to catch a monster fish, consider the fact that a large female Barramundi can produce 32 million eggs in a spawning season! One Big Old Fat Fecund Female Fish (BOFFFF) produces far more young fish than many smaller fish (more information on this is available on the here). Remember that all large Barramundi and Salmon are females. So grab a photo for bragging rights then let that large breeder fish go for the future. Undersized or berried (egg-bearing) crabs can easily be gently flipped out of crab nets, eliminating the need to handle them and risk getting snapped at!


All unwanted fish should be released as soon as possible, preferably without taking them out of the water. Use a lip grip, lip gaff, landing net, to hold the fish in the water and remove the hook using long-nosed pliers. Swim the fish to revive it before release — don’t just drop it over the side. Use a lip grip, lip gaff or landing net, to hold the fish in the water and remove the hook using long-nosed pliers.

release weightReleasing fish caught in deep water has to be done correctly. When fish are hauled to the surface from deeper than around 15m, their swim bladders fill with expanding air. Swim bladders may rupture, filling the abdomen with air, forcing the stomach inside out, through the fish’s mouth. This happens mainly to mulloway, fingermark bream, bluebone, emperor and cod. Most fish released in this state cannot return to the bottom because of the extra buoyancy. They usually end up as shark food.

Use a lead release weight of about 20oz with a barbless hook moulded into it with a line attachment. Hook this carefully onto the lip of the fish before gently lowering the weight, with fish attached, to the bottom. A couple of little jigs of the line quickly releases the fish to live another day.

Avoid dropping fish onto the hot, dry metal tinny or beach to thrash around. Let it do its thrashing in the water. Once it has quietened down, lift it out by supporting the whole fish with a hand under the belly, do not lift by just the tail or gills. A gaff, or lip grip device, allows you some control over the fish while it is de-hooked.

Fish you want to release should be de-hooked in the water, but if you want a photo, use a wet rag, towel or brag mat to hold under the fishes belly giving you the best grip and avoiding damage to the sensitive slime coating of the fish.


All caught fish should be handled with care, as most carry spines, teeth, gill-rakers or hooks, all capable of inflicting pain and ending a fishing trip. Use a fish-landing device such as a landing net; an ‘Environet’ is designed to minimize damage to the fish when landed.