The Commonwealth Government has acted to improve transparency and monitoring in one of Australia’s most environmentally damaging fisheries, which also operates in the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI) have called the recent environmental assessment of the Queensland-managed east coast net fishery ‘a step in the right direction’, with approval conditions prescribing improvements to the fishery.
The Queensland Government manages the east coast net fishery, which is Queensland’s largest fishery, running adjacent to the entire east coast. It mainly uses gillnets to target endangered hammerhead sharks, other shark species, barramundi and mackerels.
But in order to export their catch to the world, the fishery must be environmentally accredited by the Australian Government. The fishery must meet a set of conditions within defined timeframes in order to improve its ecological sustainability. Failure to do so could lead to the revocation of the export approval.
AMCS and HSI’s fishery and threatened species experts consider the Reef gill net fishery to be the highest risk fishery in Australia due to the impact of fishing on the Reef’s ecosystem and its endangered wildlife.
The nets used in the Reef trap and drown threatened dugongs, dolphins, turtles, sawfish and hammerhead sharks. But with no independent monitoring and under-reporting of threatened species deaths across the fishery, the death count is merely guesswork.
Tooni Mahto, Fisheries Campaign Manager with AMCS said: “The Commonwealth Government has sent a message to Queensland: the status quo isn’t working. Killing threatened turtles, dugongs and turtles in our Great Barrier Reef, with zero independent monitoring in place, is unacceptable.
“We’re encouraged that the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, has listened to the thousands of Australians who contacted her office calling for stronger rules around the fishery. We now expect the Queensland Government to stop dragging its heels and drastically overhaul this fishery.”
“In some instances, there is no avenue to reform net-fishing in areas critical to vulnerable snubfin and humpback dolphins and dugongs. Removing these nets is the only option to create a sustainable fishery.”
Under the Commonwealth’s assessment process, an independent data collection program has to be in place within 12 months.
Endangered hammerhead sharks are caught in the net fishery and their fins and flesh sold on the domestic and international market.
Nicola Beynon at HSI said: “The Commonwealth environmental assessment highlighted the complete lack of information on the catch of hammerheads in the Reef. Sharks are vital to the health of marine ecosystems, and fishing for an endangered species for commercial gain is environmentally damaging and out of step with community values not to mention the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.”
“The conditions say Queensland Fisheries must ensure all shark species can be readily identified. If Queensland is to allow a continued shark catch, they must at the very least require all sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached to enable identification and prevent illegal shark finning at sea. Queensland is falling far behind the rest of the world in not even making this mandatory. ”
Ms Mahto continued: “The public is highly supportive of actions to reform this fishery. We’re calling for the creation of a Net-Free North in the waters north of Cooktown to protect the last stronghold of sawfish, dugongs and turtles in Australia.
“We expect the Queensland Government to deliver on commitments to the Reef, and drive the strong reforms urgently needed to deliver low-risk fisheries, in line with the state’s Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.”
AMCS and HSI look forward to working with the Queensland Government to meet the conditions of the Commonwealth’s environmental approvals by the prescribed deadlines.
For Media contact:
AMCS: Ingrid Neilson 0421 972 731
HSI: Ben Vozzo 0450 258 057
- The Queensland Government manages the east coast net fishery, which is Queensland’s largest fishery, running adjacent to the entire east coast. It mainly uses gillnets to target endangered hammerhead sharks, other shark species, barramundi and mackerels.
- In order to export their catch to the world, the Queensland fishery must be environmentally accredited by the Australian Government. The fishery now has to meet a set of conditions within defined timeframes in order to improve its ecological sustainability. Failure to do so could lead to the revocation of the export approval.
- The Queensland-managed East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (ECIFFF) was assessed for renewal of its accreditation as a Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow the fishery to continue exporting product. The Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, can attach conditions to the accreditation.
- The Australian Senate passed a motion on December 4, 2018 requesting that strong, time-bound conditions be imposed on WTO accreditation of the ECIFFF.
- Industrial-sized nets used in Queensland can measure between 600m and 1200m long. Nets up to 600m can be used in waters <20m deep, and nets up to 1200m in waters >20m deep.
- Investigations by AMCS and WWF-Australia suggest the number of protected species caught in the fishery is under-reported by commercial fishers. Queensland abandoned its observer program in 2012.