Its not unusual to see the retail shops in Perth proudly displaying the sign Dongara Crayfish. Crayfish or the Western Rock Lobster (Panulirus cygnus) range all along Western Australia’s west coast from Hamelin Bay in the south to North West Cape, and seaward to the Abrolhos Islands. The larvae develop in coastal seagrass meadows and then migrate to deeper ocean and coral reefs. Adult crayfish are caught using wooden (formerly cane) pots placed by fishers on and around the reefs, and are ‘pulled’ or emptied daily. The location of favoured sites is usually a matter of some secrecy. Dongara crays have a long-held reputation for being especially delicious.
Aboriginal people fished the shores and reefs around Arurine Bay (now Port Denison harbour). The gidgee, a short spear for catching fish in reef pools, was one of their tools..
Crayfishing has been taking place out of Port Denison and other bays along the Batavia Coast. At these small settlements, fishermen built shacks so they could fish for a few days or weeks at a time.
With the opening of the Midland Railway in 1894, live crays were railed overnight to Perth, often served in the best hotels. A crayfish cannery was established on the Abrolhos in the 1930s, and a factory to process and freeze crayfish for export was established in Dongara in 1959 at Seaspray Beach, and operated until 2010. It bought seasonal workers to the shire every year.
The picture below was taken off Knobby Head one of the shack settlements
Crayfishing has always been a multi-cultural industry and provided opportunities for many travellers and migrants, as well as those who just love the sea, to make a new life in the Irwin shire.
Before the construction of the Port Denison Fishing Boat Harbour, boats were moored inside the reef and were subject to bad weather
Left to Right: Sweetman, “Ara-nui” Syd Knowler D2, Pegleg, “Radiant”, Monsoon D1 (26ft) Carters, “Rosa”(17ft), Coorree D10, Lorna Doone D6 (18ft), R.E.Carr, “Wenevalenda” (16ft).
With the expansion of the industry, the Denison Marina was opened on June 14 1979.
Dongara fishers work along the coast and some also work the Abrolhos Islands. Most crayfish are exported, but a tradition of local sales still continues. Besides crayfish, many other fish are caught both professionally and recreationally along the Irwin shores.
The traditional Blessing of the Fleet is held in November each year. Fishers decorate their boats and deckhands show off their rope coiling skills.
Trevally, 1980. Fishing boat LFBD 40 Silver, owner John Cole at Blessing of Fleet in 1980 with Dongara Guides. This was the first fishing boat buil;t by John Fitzhardinge at Dongara Marine.
Maintaining clean healthy beaches and a marine environment is critical to the continuity of all fishing in the Irwin shire.