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Deckhands Blake Davis and Mitch Cross set pots near Cervantes. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

WA's lucrative rock lobster fishing industry is bouncing back after big changes that threatened to destroy fishing towns along the west coast.

The industry is Australia's single most valuable fishery, worth $183 million a year.

At its peak, 395 boats scooped 15,000 tonnes of rock lobsters from the Indian Ocean in a seven-month season.

But when larval numbers hit their lowest recorded level in 2008, the State Government brought in a catch limit of just under 7000 tonnes a year. Fisherman left the industry and the number of crayboats dropped to 271.

But those who survived the restrictions are recovering.

Brent Thompson, 26, followed his father Dave Thompson, who owns Indian Ocean Rock Lobster in Cervantes, and his grandfather Dave Thompson Sr into crayfishing.

"Before quotas, we just used to go flat out," he said. "We'd pull up 1000 kilos on a good day.

"Now we are grading it - we take whatever is worth the most. You really keep your eye on the market.

"The biggest catch this year was 600kg. We could have taken much more, but we can't just keep flogging it."

Mr Thompson said in 2008 he got about $27 a kilo for lobster and now got about $37. "The market was flooded, we were getting nothing for it," he said.

"Now less hours are spent on the boat, so less maintenance costs on the boat, less fuel, less everything. If you do it right, the quota system is great."

The West Australian

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