Shark fishing ban slips in under radar

In a controversial development, game fishing for popular shark species such as makos may soon become a thing of the past.

As Fisho reported late last week the taking of several shark species listed on an international migratory species protection treaty will be banned by the end of January 2010 – the exact details of how these bans will apply still remains sketchy at this stage.
In our last update on this issue we were told meetings were being held to discuss possible bans or restrictions on fishing for mako sharks. We reported early last month that federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett could be forced to ban all fishing for makos under international obligations under the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species treaty.

Fisho has been informed by a government official from the Department of Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) that the porbeagle, shortfin mako and longfin mako will be listed as migratory species as of the end of January 2010, a listing that will have implications for game fishers, charter operators and commercial fishing operations. 
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) it is prohibited to kill, injure or take members of a listed migratory species in Commonwealth waters. This means it will not be permitted to take porbeagle, shortfin or longfin mako in Commonwealth waters, or to retain them if caught in Commonwealth waters – it is unclear at this stage how this applies to commercial fishing operations or if catch and release fishing for makos will be permitted under this treaty obligation.
Commonwealth waters extend from 3 to the 200 nautical mile limit of the exclusive economic zone, or the edge of the continental shelf (which may extend beyond the 200nm limit).

Recfish CEO Len Olyott told Fisho that he laments the fact DEWHA has taken so long to communicate the implications of thislisting to the fishing community. He also gave a timely warning: “Rest assured that any species listed under eitherCMS [Convention on Migratory Species] or CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] will receive protection under EPBC. In fact, there aremoves to get the makos CITES listed, which will ban all internationaltrade”.

Of the shark species listed for protection under the treaty, the shortfin mako is likely to be of most concern to Australian game fishers. 

“Probably the shortfin mako is of the most interest to recreational fishers and discussions with our members in Victoria suggest that there are competitions focused on catching makos.” verified Olyott.

“Under EPBC, this is unlikely to be approved.”

“On the positive side, DEWHA would like to work closely with Recfish Australia and the Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA) to ensure that all fishers are aware of the new restrictions, which will apply. We will be exploring with DEWHA legitimate ways (under EPBC) to allow research on makos to continue as clearly there is a need to collect more information on these species”.

In discussions Recfish has had with DEWHA the subject of shark tagging was raised; the main government concern being the potential injury to sharks, if any, caused by tagging and handling. These concerns have been referred to Dr Julian Pepperell and international tagging researcher David Hall.

Julian Pepperell says that of the shark species affected, the shortfin mako is of most concern to game fishers as it is the most numerous of any species of tagged shark on the Gamefish Tagging Program. He cites as an example the continuing success of a mid-winter shark tournament off Sydney that targets makos and in the past three years has tagged and released approximately over 50 each year.

“This whole situation seems to be the result of a loophole in that, if a species is listed as threatened, vulnerable etc anywhere in the world, and it is then listed as migratory under the CMS, the protective measures apply to any signatory country. In this case, makos are listed in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, but the population in the eastern Pacific is stable and not listed, and there have been no assessments in the western Pacific or Indian Ocean. There is simply no way that the population in the Atlantic is connected with the population off eastern Australia. This loophole needs to be dealt with or other species will follow.”

Fisho’s Environment Editor John Newbery has contacted a government official for verification on how the shark fishing restrictionswill apply and expects to know further details by the end of this week. We will keep you informedas information becomes available.

At the time of posting this story Fisho was awaiting comment from the NSW Game Fishing Association.   



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