Media Release Save Our Sharks

Conservation of sawfish threatened following Barra committee exclusion

September 8, 2021

A committee that will oversee the management of one the most damaging commercial fisheries for critically endangered and endangered sawfish in the Top End has been formed without a representative from a conservation group.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and its allies are concerned that not having a seat at the table in the Barramundi Fishery Management Advisory Committee is a missed opportunity to improve the environmental sustainability of the fishery and outcomes for critically endangered and endangered species of sawfish. They are appealing to the Minister for Agribusiness and Aquaculture, Nicole Manison for the immediate appointment of a standalone conservation representative.

The Committee has been re-established by the Northern Territory government in a welcomed effort to address environmental and compliance issues, including the negative impact of fishing activities on sawfish. Four of the world’s five sawfish species (dwarf, green, freshwater, narrow) call the Top End home, one of their last strongholds left on the planet as they face the threat of global extinction.

Committee members include representatives from commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, science and traditional owners.

Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS, said the barra fishery was posing a major and disproportionate threat to sawfish so it was vital a conservation representative was included on the committee to represent the interests of the broader community and provide independent scrutiny.

“The gillnet method used in this fishery is identified as a major threat to sawfish, including the endangered dwarf sawfish and critically endangered freshwater – also known as largetooth – sawfish. They’re easily tangled in these nets and fishers have been known to cut off their distinctive rostrums, leading to a slow death.

“It is critical that sawfish habitats are given the best protection possible from gillnetting, factoring cultural considerations of traditional owners,” he said.

“No conservation rep reduces the independent assessment of the fishery’s performance meeting environmental standards and the expectations of Territorians. We want to keep Top End coasts and rivers healthy for all to enjoy, and that requires input from everyone.

“There are good people in the working group, including traditional owners and some of the world’s leading scientific experts on sawfish and turtles. But not having a conservation representative limits independent scrutiny and, importantly, the broader Australian community’s voice in caring for these waters. Many Australians care deeply about the fate of this iconic species and AMCS can give a voice to that national interest on the committee.”

Shar Molloy, Co-Director of the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) said: “We welcome efforts to make committees more inclusive and effective, but not having a standalone conservation representative is setting a dangerous precedent for all NT fisheries – it implies that the broader community of Territorians, who we represent at the ECNT, are not key stakeholders.

“There’s still time for the NT Government to fix this oversight and we ask Minister Nicole Manison that a standalone conservation member be immediately appointed for the Barra fishery,” said Ms. Molloy.