Reef gillnet ban will protect dolphins, dugongs, turtles and sharks in big leap forward

  • Majority of gillnets to be removed this year; all to be phased out by 2027
  • Threatened hammerhead sharks can no longer be taken
  • New net-free zones must prioritise critical dugong habitat this year

The commitment by the Queensland and the Australian governments to remove gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef and improve fisheries transparency is a huge win for the Reef and iconic threatened species such as dugongs, turtles, sharks and sawfish, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said.

Today Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Linard and federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced a joint-funded package that will give greater protection for Reef wildlife by removing gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by June 2027. This $160 million package includes compensation for affected fishers and allocation of federal funds to improve fisheries transparency and sustainability.

The phasing out will include new net-free zones from Cape Bedford near Cooktown to the tip of Cape York, in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in other key areas for threatened species..

Gillnets are large fishing nets, sometimes over one-kilometre long, used to catch fish such as barramundi and mackerel, but they are indiscriminate in what they catch. Earlier this year, AMCS released photos showing dugongs, narrow sawfish and green turtles entangled in gillnets or dead on the beach. One photo showed at least 13 sawfish caught and allegedly dead in a single gillnet.

AMCS Chief Executive Darren Kindleysides said: “Gillnets are indiscriminate killers, which are responsible for the deaths of dugongs, turtles, sharks and sawfish. Getting rid of gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef is a huge commitment from the Queensland and federal governments, and will be a huge boost for threatened species, the health of the Reef and the multi-billion dollar Reef tourism industry.

“Threatened species bycatch in commercial gillnets has long been considered the biggest sustainability issue for fisheries on the Reef. Permanently removing these devastating nets will help populations of threatened species to recover.

“Healthy populations of fish and other marine life give us a healthy well functioning ecosystem, providing a much needed boost to the Reef’s resilience and World Heritage values. Thriving populations of dugongs and turtles is a fantastic outcome for our multi-billion dollar Reef tourism industry.

“The full details of new net-free zone locations are yet to be released, but it must include immediately banning gillnets in critical threatened species habitat including all Dugong Protection Areas. Continued gillnet fishing in valuable dugong habitat is putting animals at risk from continued capture and horrific deaths while these reforms are implemented.”

The announcement also includes declaring threatened hammerhead sharks as no-take species, including the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.

“The ongoing capture of endangered hammerheads for meat and fins has long been out of step with protecting and recovering threatened species in the Reef,” Mr Kindleysides said. “Their fins and meat can no longer be sold for consumption, which is major progress. Along with the removal of gillnets, this will give these species the protection they so desperately need.”

Improvements to commercial fishing transparency and accountability are also included in the reforms, through the use of independent data validation on board commercial fishing vessels operating in the Reef.

“The public want to buy sustainably caught seafood, and they want to know fishers are doing the right thing, particularly in our Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Kindleysides said. “Monitoring through cameras on boats ensures responsible vessel operators are supported and fishery managers can have an accurate picture of just how many threatened species are being caught.

“This welcome and necessary package of fishery reforms and wildlife protection in the Great Barrier Reef means the Queensland and Australian governments have taken key steps in addressing one of the priority recommendations by the World Heritage Committee’s scientific advisers in their Reactive Monitoring Mission Report.”

UNESCO and the IUCN recently made 22 recommendations across climate policy, fisheries and water quality for the Queensland and Australian governments to take to improve outcomes for the Reef and protect its World Heritage Status.

/Public Release. View in full here.