Department o Fisheries researchers sample using seine nets.Inset: Juvenile blowfsh. Photos: Eloise Dortch
Lie o a blowie
There is much we don’t yet know about the lie cycle andpopulation dynamics o blowies. Most o the researchconducted on blowsh in Western Australia has occurred inthe Swan Estuary.These studies have shown that common blowsh live to atleast six years old and reach sexual maturity when they areabout two years old.Mature blowsh migrate out o the Swan Estuary to spawnin shallow coastal waters along Perth’s coastline betweenOctober and January, with the peak spawning period beingNovember to December. At these times, large schools o blowies have oten been observed by shers passing out tosea through the Fremantle heads.Males and emales release their sperm and eggs into thewater. Fertilisation occurs in the water, and the ertilised eggsdevelop into larvae. Once the larvae have developed into juvenileblowsh between ve and seven centimetres long – at aboutseven to nine months old – they enter the estuary and then staythere until they are sexually mature.
A single stock
It is thought that blowsh larvae originating rom variousspawning events along the coast are transported and mixed byocean currents, leading to the creation o a single genetic stockalong WA’s lower west coast. This means that blowsh spawnedin the ocean rom Swan Estuary stock may enter the estuaryas juveniles or stay in the ocean – or travel to nearby shelteredcoastal waters such as Cockburn Sound at Rockingham.Studies show blowsh grow at dierent rates in dierentlocations. Ater one year in the Swan Estuary, blowsh arean average 8.5 to 10 centimetres in length, compared to 7.4centimetres at Rockingham, and 6.5 centimetres at JurienBay and Dongara.
Many people think that there are more blowsh today thanthere were in the past. A decline in rainall in south-westWA since the mid-1970s (leading to larger saline areas inestuaries providing ‘marine’ conditions suitable or blowies) isone possible reason or an increase in blowie numbers.However, historical records show that there were also periodso high blowsh abundance in the past. In 1973, shing writerRoss Cusack observed that blowies had occurred in largenumbers along the WA coast during the periods 1930–1935and 1954–1955. In the late 1960s, there was a period o respite with ewer blowsh around, but by the early 1970s,the high numbers were back, he noted.
Blowies have inested the entire WA coastline romeast o Esperance, north to Shark Bay and they now thrivein every estuary. The time has come to wonder just how bad our blowfsh plague can get.
(Ross Cusack, 1973)
This compares to a comment in a WA Museum document,dated 1979:
Blowfsh have been extremely abundant in the lower- middle (Swan) Estuary or many years.
(WA Museum, 1979)
The problem o high blowsh numbers is clearly not new.However, it is possible that the current period o highabundance has lasted an unusually long time.
The Department o Fisheries believes it is important togather inormation on blowsh abundance, even i blowshare not targeted by shers.Since 2005, researchers have used seine nets to capture,measure and record blowsh at regular intervals in near-shore waters at sites between Esperance and Hillarys,north o Perth. The small, juvenile sh o various speciescaught in these nets provide an indication o what theadult abundance o species will be in coming years.In the uture, this inormation, along with data collected byother organisations along the metropolitan coastline andby recreational anglers through thevolunteer Research Angler Program,will help show i there are any long-term trends in blowie abundance.