Fishing nets as wide as eight kilometres and trawling of the seafloor are devastating slow growing marine life and the damage to Australia’s oceans is undermining a Federal Government commitment to safeguard critical breeding and feeding areas. A new report has found that seafloor, or demersal, fishing and gill netting is "indiscriminate" in its impact on marine life. Prawn trawling, for example, results in the capture of 500 fish and shark species as bycatch.
In the South West marine region for example, gill nets up to eight kilometres wide are having a devastating impact on shark and ray species. The WA South Coast Shark Fishery and Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery catch at least 34 and 50 shark and ray species, respectively, of which about a third are discarded.
The new report by environmental consultancy J Diversity has been released as the trawling industry increases pressure on Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to scale back proposed new marine reserves in South West Australia and allow destructive seafloor trawling and gill netting into areas critical for marine life.
"Trawling is one of most indiscriminate fishing methods. It produces only 2 pert cent of wild fish harvest but up to one third of its bycatch," Dr Stuart Blanch, Director of the Environment Centre of the NT said.
The report demonstrates that seafloor trawling is as destructive as the clear-felling of forests on land and that gill nets – the ‘nets of death’ - must be prevented from further damaging critical feeding and breeding areas for marine life, Dr Blanch said.
"Imagine knocking down a forest to catch the animals that live there, this is what seafloor trawling does. This trawling along with offshore gillnets which are up to 8km long walls of death hanging in the ocean are devastating to our marine life," said Tim Nicol of the Conservation Council of Western Australia.
Gavan McFadzean from The Wilderness Society called on the Federal Environment Minister to rule out any watering down of proposal for new marine sanctuaries to benefit seafloor trawling or gill net fishing. "If the Minister allows these death nets into important feeding and breeding areas, he would undermine the government’s election commitment to improve protection of our marine life," he said.
Key findings of the report A Conservation Perspective On Demersal Fishing In Australia include:
- A recent study off South Australia estimated 374 sea lions were killed per 18 month breeding cycle, which threatens some populations with extinction, in the gillnet sector of the South East Scalefish and Shark Fishery
- The Northern Prawn Fishery is killing at least 5 tonnes of marine life as bycatch for every tonne of prawns that goes to market.
- Most Australian stocks including species susceptible to fishing have been fished down to between 20 to 40% of their unfished biomass, well below the threshold of 75% recommended by scientists to ensure conservation of fish stocks.
Currently, less than 5% of Australian waters are protected from fishing and mining, while destructive fishing techniques place marine life under threat right around Australia's coast.