Footage that appears to show several turtles trapped in a gillnet in Mackay has prompted anger from marine conservationists who have been warning about the dangers of this fishing method for threatened and endangered Great Barrier Reef wildlife.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said the footage, filmed at the weekend, showed at least seven turtles trapped in the nets set near the Mackay port.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef Fisheries Campaign Manager Simon Miller said gillnet fishers are supposed to monitor their nets at all times to release non target species if they get entangled, but there was no fisher in sight in the footage.
“This region is an important conservation area for flatback and green turtles and both species are known to nest on this beach,” he said.
“We’re not sure of the fate of these turtles, but the footage shows how easily endangered species like turtles can get entangled in these huge nets, where many will quickly drown.
“Gillnets are indiscriminate killers and we are calling on the Queensland government to do more to ensure fishers are not killing threatened and endangered species in these nets. Fishing practices on our Reef should be at a gold standard but this footage shows rules are failing threatened and endangered Reef wildlife.
“In 2019, gillnet fishers across the whole of Queensland reported that just 10 turtles had been entangled as bycatch in their nets. This footage appears to show that as many as seven turtles were entangled in just one spot overnight at Louisa Creek beach. This is just one fisher for one night near Mackay, imagine the carnage that takes place throughout the year along the length of the Great Barrier Reef.
“The level of entanglement shown here suggests that under reporting in Queensland waters is commonplace.”
AMCS conservatively estimates that over 1000 turtles were caught in the Queensland East Coast gillnet fishery in 2019 and is calling for cameras to be fitted on all gillnet fishing boats to gain an accurate picture of the scale of wildlife entanglements and deaths.
“Six of the world’s seven species of turtle are found on the Great Barrier Reef. All are listed as vulnerable or endangered under Australian law, which means they are all protected species and fishers must report if they have caught them. But we fear fishers are not taking their responsibility to do this seriously enough, so we need tougher rules like cameras on boats to ensure accurate reporting,” added Mr Miller.
“We need the Queensland Government to do more to protect turtles with their draft Protected Species Management Plan. This scale of interactions could have devastating impacts on the populations of iconic species like turtles and snubfin dolphins.
“The Queensland government must set limits on the number of endangered and threatened species that can be caught in a region. If the number is caught, the area should be closed to fishing for a number of years to allow the populations to recover.”