Curse of the Gill Nets

IT’S well known that gill nets cause untold damage to a variety of sea creatures. The devastation caused by these nets was revealed to Fisho during a recent trip to remote waters north of Darwin in the NT.

Floating gill nets, probably lost by commercial fishing boats, had become entangled on reef systems about 10 miles off the coast of Melville Island. The tangled nets acted as mini FADs for schools of fish, mainly pelagic queenfish and various trevallies, but also trapped and killed endangered turtles.

Melville Island Lodge head guide Warren “Wazza” Smith had released a number of turtles from the nets before Fisho’s visit. Unfortunately, he’d also found a few dead ones. While chasing a school of busting longtail tuna we discovered another net with two turtles caught in the mesh. At first glance we thought they were dead but signs of life prompted us to attempt a rescue. The bigger turtle, although damaged by the net, swam away strongly after Waz cut it free.

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Although wounded, the lucky turtle swam away strongly. Let’s hope it avoids any more nets!

A second, much smaller turtle had badly cut its front flippers in its attempts to escape the deadly mesh. The animal had probably been entrapped for days, possibly weeks, and the deep wounds were festering.

We released it but it’s highly unlikely it survived.

This experience was a grim reminder of the impact abandoned or “ghost” nets have on marine creatures. While anglers are rightly concerned about the impacts of commercial nets on fish stocks, many of us probably don’t realise that when lost or abandoned these nets just keep on killing fish, birds, turtles and marine mammals. These nets can wreak unseen havoc for years.


This poor little fella had his flippers badly cut by the evil net. Although we let him go, it’s unlikely he survived …

Angling groups like Keep Australia Fishing are currently formulating campaigns to restrict and hopefully ban nets from inshore areas around the nation. While commercial operators are entitled to make a living and to provide seafood for consumers, this does not mean they can employ unsustainable or damaging methods. There is little argument that gill nets and trawl nets – whether from domestic operators or foreign fishing fleets – cause significant environmental problems, especially in Australia’s remote north.

While environment groups have previously made noises about the “ghost net” issue, they have in the past tended to lump rec anglers in with the commercial sector as part of their contentious lock-up campaigns. The narrow-minded approach of the greenies has so far served only to alienate the recreational fishing sector but there are now signs the conservationists have realised their blanket anti-fishing stance probably isn’t a great idea.

In recent times there have been signals that prominent enviro groups are now willing to work with anglers, instead of against us. The proof will be in the pudding – and there would need to be a lot of work needed by the green organisations in order to build trust with anglers, especially given the extremist nonsense various groups and individuals (namely Pew’s Imogen Zethoven) have been guilty of – but surely it would make sense to at least look at joining forces in getting rid of these damned destructive nets, if nothing else?

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