Media Release Save Our Sharks

Endangered sawfish win reprieve with NT fishing closure

March 16, 2023
  • Claims that restaurants will struggle to serve barramundi are exaggerated

Critically endangered sawfish and rare river sharks have won a needed reprieve to recover following the decision of traditional owners to close the East Alligator River and Mini Mini-Murgenella Creek estuaries to commercial fishers, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said today.

The NT’s barramundi fishery is a gillnet fishery that the NT Government’s Fisheries Division assessed in 2021 as posing “high” to “severe” risks to a myriad of threatened, endangered and protected species. Just last month the NT Government withdrew its application for a Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) licence that would have enabled the export of seafood from the fishery – a process that assesses sustainability under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

AMCS Fisheries and Threatened Species Campaign Manager Alexia Wellbelove said: “The NT’s barramundi fishery needs to make major changes to become sustainable. The vast majority of people don’t want to be eating barramundi when it comes at the cost of killing threatened species such dugongs, and critically endangered turtles and sawfish. This closure, in particular, will give critically endangered sawfish and rare river sharks, amongst other species, a welcome reprieve.

“The NT barramundi fishing industry’s claims that Australian restaurants will struggle to serve barramundi are an extreme exaggeration. The whole NT barra fishery caught 276 tonnes of barramundi in 2019, the latest year of data,1 while the Humpty Doo barramundi farm alone can supply 100 tonnes a week,2 without killing any threatened species.

“If the fishing industry is serious about acting sustainably, then it needs to back in measures to protect and support the recovery of threatened species, which includes the protection of habitats critical to their survival.”

Since the NT Government applied for a WTO in October 2021, a bycatch working group for the barramundi fishery has identified and tabled specific solutions to reduce bycatch of threatened species and support the recovery of endangered animals, but no solutions have yet been formally implemented in the fishery’s new management arrangements. The federal environment department has also recommended several solutions to minimise bycatch and improve the sustainability of the barramundi fishery.

“We strongly encourage NT Fisheries Minister Paul Kirby to take the time necessary to ensure the environmental issues are resolved, because Territorians depend on healthy Top End coasts for work, lifestyle and culture,” Ms Wellbelove said.

“The Northern Territory is one of the last remaining strongholds for Critically Endangered sawfish in the world, and we know the Mini-Mini is an important area for these species. The global spotlight is on the NT Government to show leadership to protect one of the world’s most endangered groups of sharks and rays, and their home – one of the world’s last relatively intact tropical coastlines.”