Media Release Threatened Species

NT barra gillnet ban will help save dolphins, dugongs, turtles and sawfish

June 18, 2024
  • Gillnets are indiscriminate killers that entangle threatened species, including dugongs, endangered turtles and critically endangered sawfish
  • Diners will still be able to get NT barramundi on their plate, with farmed barra making up about 95% of the barra produced in the Territory
  • Gillnet-free zones needed by 2025 to stave off threat of localised extinctions for some threatened species such as sawfish

Conservation groups have welcomed the Northern Territory Labor Government’s commitment to ban the destructive gillnets used by the NT’s commercial barramundi fishery in the next term of government.

AMCS shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said: “Gillnets are indiscriminate killers that entangle the targeted fish as well as threatened and endangered species, including dugongs, dolphins, turtles and the critically endangered sawfish.

“We welcome the Lawler Labor Government’s commitment and bipartisan support from the Country Liberal Party to better protect the Territory’s threatened and endangered species, which are of great cultural importance to Aboriginal Traditional Owners. Healthy Top End waters attract tourists from all over the world, and support a strong recreational fishing industry.

“Australian diners will still be able to get barramundi on their plate especially with the NT’s growing aquaculture industry. Farmed barramundi makes up about 95% of the barra produced in the Territory. The whole NT barra fishery caught about 180 tonnes of barramundi in 2023, while the Humpty Doo barramundi farm alone can supply about 150 tonnes in just one week, without killing any threatened species.

“The vast majority of people don’t want to be eating barramundi when it comes at the cost of killing threatened species such as dugongs, and critically endangered turtles and sawfish.” 

HSI marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck said: “The Northern Territory is one of the last remaining strongholds for Critically Endangered sawfish in the world. These are lifeboat populations that are disproportionately crucial to the global survival of the species. We welcome the NT Government’s proposal to ban gillnets and demonstration of 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.”

Environment Centre NT Executive Director Kirsty Howey said: “Territorians depend on healthy Top End coasts for work, play and culture. No one wants to see dead sawfish, turtles or dugongs in commercial gillnets.”

The Territory’s commercial barramundi fishery is a gillnet fishery that the NT Government’s Fisheries Division in 2021 assessed as posing “high” to “severe” risks to myriad threatened, endangered and protected species.

Keep Top End Coasts Healthy manager Adele Pedder said: “The phasing out of gillnets is welcomed, but there is a need for urgency. Gillnet-free zones need to be implemented by 2025 in critical habitats in Van Diemen Gulf and southern Gulf of Carpentaria to stave off the threat of localised extinctions of threatened species such as sawfish and speartooth sharks.”

Dr Guida said: “There is a future for a commercial wild barramundi fishery if it uses fishing methods that don’t kill endangered species, monitors catches with cameras to ensure good data on the fishery and endangered species, and there’s a threatened species strategy that actually protects threatened and endangered species.

“The current Barramundi Fishery Threatened, Endangered and Protected Species strategy has no direct protections for endangered and threatened species, except advice on giving turtles CPR. There are no mandatory actions if fishers catch too many threatened or endangered species, such as moving on to other areas or alerting other fishers in the area, nor are critical habitats such as Van Diemens Gulf or southern Gulf of Carpentaria protected from gillnetting.”