Media Release Fisheries

Endangered hammerhead sharks being dumped by their thousands, new data reveals

April 11, 2019

At least 2,491 endangered hammerhead sharks were dumped overboard by commercial fishers in Queensland’s east coast gillnet fishery in 2018, shocking new data analysed by marine conservationists has revealed.

In the supposed sanctuary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is part of the east coast fishery, the data shows that 3,359 endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks were caught and more than half – 1,967 – were thrown back.

Studies have shown that only 2 in 10 hammerheads caught are alive when they are thrown back. Those that do survive the catch and are thrown back have a slim chance of survival.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI) calculated the figures from data entered into the Queensland Government’s QFish database. Last year was the first time fishers have been required to record catch and “discard” data on hammerhead sharks caught in the fishery.

Dr. Leonardo Guida, shark ecologist and senior campaigner at AMCS, said: “Of all the life in our oceans, sharks and reef corals are the most threatened with extinction. Yet the commercial exploitation of sharks on our Great Barrier Reef is going essentially unchecked.

“On top of this, we now find fishers are dumping more than 2,400 unwanted, likely dead, hammerheads because they’re not worth the money or the effort. This is inexcusable, and urgent action must be taken to remove gillnets catching endangered hammerheads from the Reef.

“The Queensland Government’s mis-management of endangered hammerhead sharks is shocking. Sharks are critical to the Reef’s health, yet commercial fishers can catch up to 120,000 sharks each year in our Great Barrier Reef.

“Reporting numbers dumped is only part of the solution, and now that we know the scale of it, industrial-sized gillnets need to be removed. It’s not just about sharks either, the benefits of these reforms extend to industry and all life that call the Reef home.”

Scalloped and great hammerhead sharks are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red list, which is a higher threat of extinction level than polar bears, lions, and giant pandas.

In 2018, the Federal Government denied submissions from AMCS and HSI that called for the protection of the scalloped hammerhead shark, allowing it to continue being fished in the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Lawrence Chlebeck, Marine Campaigner at HSI, said: “Scalloped hammerhead shark populations have declined up to 84 per cent in the Reef. Federal and Queensland Governments still have the opportunity to mandate their full protection, and unless immediate action is taken, extinction of an iconic species is just around the corner.”

Dr. Guida added: “The health of the Reef is shared responsibility between Federal and Queensland Governments. We expect them to act now and remove industrial-sized gillnets to save these species.”


For Media contact:

AMCS: Graham Readfearn 0406 241 081

HSI: Ben Vozzo 0450 258 057

Additional Information.

  1. The figure of 120,000 sharks caught is a conservative estimate based on QLD Fisheries quota of 480t of shark for Great Barrier Reef.
  2. A recent study shows that Queensland fisheries are responsible for a decline of up to a 92 per cent in large sharks off Queensland’s coast.
  3. According to the IUCN Red List, sharks and reef-forming corals are the most vulnerable group of marine animals threatened with extinction
  4. Shark discards were only required to be reported in Queensland fisheries as of 2018.
  5. Official shark quota for the Great Barrier Reef sector of the east coast fishery is 480t. This equates to 120,000 individual sharks using a conservative estimate of each retained shark weighing 4kg. Quota limits do not include discards regardless of whether they’re alive or dead.
  6. 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 independent observer program in 2012.
  7. In 2018, the Federal Government passed an amendment to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act allowing for the scalloped hammerhead to be fished from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) despite it being a threatened species. Under the GBRMP legislation, any threatened species listed in the EPBC Act is fully protected, irrespective of its EPBC status/category. Currently, as a result of a HSI nomination, the scalloped hammerhead has been determined as qualifying for endangered status in the EPBC Act but was listed as Conservation Dependant, meaning that it can be fished providing certain conditions are followed and the species’ recovery is well managed.
  8. In January 2019, the ‘Discussion Paper’ (as per the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027) was released by the Fisheries Minister, Mark Furner, to invite public consultation on proposed reforms for the east coast fishery.