Sharks dying en masse in commercial gill nets

NEARLY 20,000 hammerhead sharks and 3,000 endangered sawfish are entangled in commercial gill nets in Queensland every year, according to new figures from WWF-Australia.

The environmentalists have released graphic photos of a sawfish that had its rostrum cut off and then was thrown back in the water to die last year near the mouth of the Wenlock River on Cape York.

There is no direct evidence the fish had been trapped in a gill net before it's rostrum was cut off.

WWF-Australia has been ramping up a campaign to create a gill net free zone in north Queensland.

Disturbing imagery obtained by WWF-Australia shows the destructive impact of commercial gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The pictures were taken early in 2019 in the central Great Barrier Reef region. Picture: WWF-Australia
Disturbing imagery obtained by WWF-Australia shows the destructive impact of commercial gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The pictures were taken early in 2019 in the central Great Barrier Reef region. Picture: WWF-Australia

But fishermen have hit back, saying they avoid fishing in areas known for sawfish areas as removing them from nets can be dangerous.

They argue Queenslanders would have to eat imported flake at their fish and chips shops if the industry was shut down.

WWF-Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said images taken last year of a saw fish with its nose cut off were "barbaric".

He said the person who took the photograph had to kill the fish to end its suffering and believed a gill net had been operating in the area.

"Instead of spending time to free this vulnerable species from a net, someone hacked the rostrum off a live fish in an horrific act of cruelty," he said.

He said the photo re-enforced WWF's push for a Net Free North.

WWF also released new estimates based on observations that 19,500 hammerhead sharks, 2984 sawfish, 1684 turtles, 48 dolphins, and 48 dugongs were entangled in commercial gill nets on Queensland's east coast each year.

Dead sharks are stacked up to waist height on the deck at a time when there is worldwide concern about declining shark numbers and growing awareness of their importance to Reef health. Picture: WWF-Australia
Dead sharks are stacked up to waist height on the deck at a time when there is worldwide concern about declining shark numbers and growing awareness of their importance to Reef health. Picture: WWF-Australia

"It's time to remove this deadly and outdated fishing practice from areas that are important habitat for endangered species," he said.

But Mark Savin, who holds one of two commercial shark and mackerel fishing licenses in north Queensland defended the industry, saying fishermen had to handle any sawfish caught in their net quickly for their own safety.

He said flake had to processed quickly to ensure it remained top quality so it complied with Queensland food laws and remained fit for human consumption.

"Generally, ... there is plenty of time to release healthy saw sharks back into the water," he said.

A snubfin dolphin killed by gill net.
A snubfin dolphin killed by gill net.

"Experienced shark fishers won't net in the areas renowned for saw sharks."

"They are a safety hazard and we are usually a long way from medical help if needed."

He said if the environmentalists wanted to end the shark fishing industry they should "put their money where their mouth is and fairly buy out the last two commercial shark boats in the Queensland Fishery".

"The flake is truly a suitable product being healthy and natural to eat, regenerates fast, has absolutely no chance of becoming extinct and ploughs dollars into our economy," he said.

According to Fisheries Queensland data, 125,000 sharks were caught in nets in 2018 with 41,000 discarded and 84,000 processed.

Smaller sharks are prized for their fillets which are sold as "flake" in fish and chips shops.



Firies step up to challenge in fight against disease

premium_icon Firies step up to challenge in fight against disease

Firefighters tackle Sydney Tower Eye to raise money for MND research

Turning a spare room into an art gallery

premium_icon Turning a spare room into an art gallery

'I have thought for a while now, I need to do something'

Join the fight to protect iconic animal

premium_icon Join the fight to protect iconic animal

New group aims to help protect koalas in the Valley