According to a disturbing report in the Courier Mail, at least three turtles have been trapped and killed in a gillnet illegally set in a Net-Free Zone north of Mackay last Sunday 14th March.
The Queensland Department of Fisheries investigation found multiple breaches of the Fisheries Act, and the incident has been publicised just one month on from the release of footage of at least seven turtles trapped in a gillnet near the Mackay coal port.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) welcomed the investigation and said it was disturbing that iconic Great Barrier Reef marine wildlife have been killed in an incident of illegal fishing within an area that should provide a refuge from gillnets.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef Fisheries Campaign Manager Simon Miller said the probe sent a message to commercial fishers that they need to improve their practices in the Great Barrier Reef, where fishing should be of a gold standard.
“Sadly we keep seeing turtles and other protected species getting caught in gillnets in the Great Barrier Reef. The Queensland Government mustn’t turn a blind eye to these interactions, otherwise we will lose these species forever, said Mr Miller.
“The Queensland Government must take urgent action to put cameras on board all commercial gillnet vessels, so that we get an accurate picture of the scale of the problem. It will also help to enforce compliance within the important Net-Free Zones located in three areas off the Reef coastline.
The Government needs to embrace new technologies such as cameras to improve commercial fishing. The introduction of vessel tracking has likely helped prosecute this incident of illegal fishing.
“We also need the Government to set and police strict limits on the number of endangered species that are caught as bycatch in a region. If this number is caught, the area should be closed to gillnet fishing for a number of years to allow the populations to recover.”
The Mackay Net-Free Zone is located north of the city, between St Helens Beach and Cape Hillsborough. The area has been closed to all commercial gillnet fishing since November 2015 to increase recreational fishing opportunities, to support tourism and economic growth in regional areas. Anyone caught commercial gillnet fishing in these zones faces heavy fines.