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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Stronger measures needed to save sharks

28
Apr 2008

Scientists have called for tough scrutiny of Queensland’s east coast shark fishery to save it from possible collapse.

In a submission to the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries East Coast Finfish Fishery (ECIFF) management proposal, a team from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University argues that proposed changes to shark fishing regulations are inadequate to ensure a sustainable fishery.

Grey reef sharks in open water

 

In Australia and worldwide, there is growing concern about viability of shark populations, says the submission’s lead author, CoECRS Professorial Fellow Sean Connolly.

“Many shark species are highly vulnerable to overfishing – and many of the world’s shark fisheries are in dire straits as a result. In addition, sharks are highly vulnerable to ‘bycatch mortality’; that is, being caught incidentally in fisheries that target other species.  For instance, populations of coral reef sharks in the Indo-Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, are now severely depleted,” he says.

Because of their vulnerability to overfishing, effective management of sharks requires detailed knowledge of the biology of the individual shark species, coupled with the use of fishing methods that carefully target particular species and even age groups, says the team of Professor Connolly, Professor Howard Choat, Dr William Robbins and Ms Mizue Hisano.

“In contrast, the shark catch in the East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery (ECIFF) is highly non-selective, and very little is known about the biology of the constituent species,” they warn.

The proposed changes to the management of shark fishing in the ECIFF include several positive steps, they say: reducing the scope for further increases in fishing pressure, reducing the risks posed to vulnerable species, and collecting data relevant to management of the fishery.

“All three of these objectives must be addressed in order to demonstrate sustainable management of the shark fishery,” the researchers comment in their submission.

“However, our assessment of the available evidence is that there are no grounds to support the claim that the proposed levels of harvest are sustainable, will protect at-risk species, or will secure the long-term viability of commercial or recreational shark fishing in the ECIFF.”

“More than 20 shark species are caught in this fishery, but we know virtually nothing about their natural abundances, birth rates, death rates, or movement patterns,” explains submission co-author Dr William Robbins. “This is the kind of information needed to determine what levels of fishing are sustainable, and to set regulations that minimize the risks to the most vulnerable species.”

To ensure a sustainable shark fishery, and to protect at-risk species, the team is recommending that any shark fishery that is introduced should be managed as an experimental fishery, with fishing levels set conservatively and targeted at the collection of data. These data should be used to determine whether a viable shark fishery can be supported, and, if so, what target stock sizes and catch levels will ensure long-term sustainability.

“Without such data, there can be no scientific basis for concluding that current levels of fishing pressure are sufficiently low to prevent depletion of these populations.”

The researchers are urging the Queensland Government to:
• Introduce measures to increase the selectivity of fishing in the ECIFF, and particularly to minimize the bycatch of sharks.
• Estimate the mortality of sharks due to bycatch on a species-by-species basis, with reported catch levels validated by expert observers in all commercial sectors of the ECIFF.
• Carry out research on the shark species caught in the Fishery, with particular focus on at-risk species, to determine population trends under current conditions, as well as likely trends under alternative levels of fishing pressure.

More information:
Professor Sean Connolly, CoECRS and JCU, +61 7 4781 4242 or +61 0419 422 815
Dr William Robbins, JCU, +61 0408 322 457;
Professor Howard Choat, JCU, +61 7 4781 6383
Mizue Hisano, CoECRS and JCU, +61 7 4781 5725
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au