Media Release Threatened Species

Queensland Government is failing to stop threatened species dying in gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef

January 29, 2019

Conservation groups say the Queensland Government’s recently released Directions Paper of fisheries reforms does nothing to stop endangered marine species continuing to die in gill nets in the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.

The Directions Paper invites public consultation on proposed fishery reforms however, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and WWF-Australia say the lack of reform on gill nets is bitterly disappointing.

The nets are so damaging that even when best practise was being demonstrated to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) by a gillnet fisher, two snubfin dolphins were drowned.

Snubfin dolphins are so rare that it’s estimated the loss of those two individuals in October 2017 set back the local population by 15 years.

Threatened species such as dugongs, dolphins, turtles, sawfish, and hammerhead sharks suffer horrible deaths in gill nets each year.

Despite this, the Directions Paper does not mention the obvious solution of removing these destructive nets from high conservation value areas like the Great Barrier Reef.

With no help for Queensland’s protected species, the Directions Paper fails to deliver the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy’s vision to ensure “fishing is a low risk to Queensland’s aquatic resources…”

The Government is finalising its agenda for public consultations in April. We are calling for the Government to get this policy right by including the removal of gill nets in areas of high conservation value to endangered wildlife.

Dr Leonardo Guida, Senior Shark Campaigner with AMCS, said: “By failing to tackle threatened species deaths in gill nets, the only direction this Directions Paper takes us is backwards.”

The number of threatened species killed as bycatch in gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef is staggeringly high, and most likely staggeringly underreported. Our organisations’ recent joint investigation revealed that each year, far more threatened species are being killed in our Reef than we’re told. Our research showed that an estimated average 60 dolphins, 60 dugongs, and 2,100 turtles are caught in Queensland’s east coast net fishery, compared to what fishers are reporting, which average one dolphin, three dugongs and 149 turtles in the same period.”

“The Queensland Government needs to act now to remove high risk gill nets and needs to urgently reinstate an independent observer program.”

Jim Higgs, Fisheries spokesperson at WWF-Australia, said: “WWF has bought and retired three gill net licences in recent years using donations. Strong public support for this action shows people want destructive gill nets removed from sensitive areas. So do recreational fishers; and many Indigenous rangers are tired of commercial gill nets killing threatened species. It’s time for the Queensland government to step up and buy out high risk gill netting operations to ensure Queensland can maintain its remaining marine wildlife populations.”

AMCS and WWF say the Queensland government will call for feedback in April – an opportunity for people to voice their opposition to gill nets in areas of high conservation value to endangered wildlife.


For Media contact:

AMCS: Ingrid Neilson 0421 972 731

WWF: Mark Symons 0400 985 571


Additional Information:

  • The Queensland-managed East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (ECIFFF) is currently undergoing assessment for renewal of its accreditation as a Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow the fishery to continue exporting product. The WTO in its current form has been provided with extensions twice, once in September 2018 and again in December 2018.The Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, can attach conditions to the accreditation.
  • The Australian Senate passed a motion on December 4, 2018 requesting that strong, time-bound conditions be imposed on WTO accreditation of the ECIFFF.
  • Industrial-sized nets used in Queensland can measure between 600m and 1200m long. Nets up to 600m can be used in waters <20m deep, and nets up to 1200m in waters >20m deep.
  • 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 observer program in 2012.
  • WWF-Australia is advocating for a Net Free North area from Cooktown to the Torres Strait to create a safe haven for dugongs and other threatened species.