Recreational and commercial fishing interests in Western Australia want a rethink on a shark fishing ban in the state’s north-west, 12 years after commercial shark fisheries were closed due to overfishing.
- Shark populations are booming off the north-west coast of WA after the area was closed to commercial fishing 12 years ago
- WA’s new Fisheries Minister Don Punch met with Recfishwest and WAFIC representatives this week. He has made no decision on the plan
- Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd says any return to commercial shark fishing in the north-west would amount to a cull
They say the shark population is booming and threatening fish stocks and tourism.
The fishing groups want the existing commercial line, trap and trawl fishers in the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions to be allowed to take shark by-catch for scientific research and to supply local fish and chip markets.
Recfishwest, which represents an estimated 750,000 amateur fishers in WA, is arguing hard scientific data is needed on shark populations.
It said anecdotal evidence indicated that as many as seven in 10 fish hooked were lost to sharks.
Chief executive of the fishing body Andrew Rowland said a limited shark fishery would provide data, which had been patchy since northern commercial shark fisheries were closed in 2009.
“In terms of stock assessments and population biology, you have to knock a few fish on the head to understand the stock status and the age-based structure of the population,” Dr Rowland said.
Sharks ‘unusable for human consumption’
The WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) supports the proposal but, according to a former professional shark fisher Peter Jecks, it is unlikely to make a difference or be commercially viable.
Mr Jecks pioneered the blue swimmer crab fishery at Shark Bay in 1998. He is also licensed for scalefish such as snapper and dhufish.
He says he has to catch up to 25 per cent more fish to meet his scalefish quota because of shark depredation and that the sharks following his vessels are now much larger, often more than 3 metres in length.
“And the sad part about that is, due to the heavy metals aspect, they’re not usable for human consumption,” Mr Jecks said.
He also believed the government would prohibit shark fins from being sold which made the catch unviable.
The new WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch will meet industry representatives next week.
He said he understood the impacts of shark depredation but its prevalence could be due to more people fishing.
What are the alternatives?
Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said any return to commercial shark fishing in the north-west would amount to a cull.
“The reality is, if we put forward a lethal scientific trial with taking more sharks, then there’s a risk that this could be pushed out nationally because we’re seeing a growing population, more people out there fishing,” said Sea Shepherd’s national director Jeff Hansen.
With funds from recreational fishing boat licenses, the WA government is investigating technologies designed to repel sharks without harming them.
Fisheries scientist Gary Jackson has been trialling devices that rely on electric fields, magnetic forces and acoustic recordings of orca cries.
The study has been conducted at a range of locations and is ongoing.
It has identified half a dozen shark species most commonly taking hooked fish.
“So there’s a mixture of commercially important species in there, smaller species, which actually aren’t fished commercially, and also species of high conservation status; grey nurse sharks.”
Shark numbers recovering
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development shark scientist Matias Braccini said it was biologically impossible for there to be a population explosion after just 12 years without shark fishing pressure in the northwest.
He said shark numbers were just returning to what they were before commercial fishing pressure.
“It’s not that the system is out of balance,” Dr Braccini said.