Response: commercial and recreational fisheries

Jurisdictional arrangements

Fishing is the main pressure on sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (the Marine Park).  Within the Marine Park, both commercial and recreational fisheries are managed by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F) in accordance with the Offshore Constitutional Settlement 1995, while the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority  (GBRMPA) is responsible for the conservation and wise use of the natural resources (including the fisheries resources) of the Marine Park. The QDPI&F ’s main management tools are fisheries management plans and regulations, and Fish Habitat Areas that restrict habitat disturbance in important fish habitats.  As a multiple use marine park, the Zoning Plan implemented by the GBRMPA  allows for extractive uses such as fishing in over 65% of the Marine Park. However, the type of fishing activities permitted are regulated through the Zoning Plan, and up to 33% of the Marine Park is set aside as no-take marine reserves that are closed to extractive activities such as fishing. The GBRMPA also participates in the QDPI&F’s management planning process via membership on its fisheries Management Advisory Committees.  For more information see Environmental status – fishes and Management status – Fisheries.

Management of the Great Barrier Reef net fishery

As 90% of the reported Great Barrier Reef shark catch is taken by the gillnet fishery, the management arrangements for this fishery are particularly important to consider. Current management arrangements for this fishery include the following:

  • Entry restrictions: entry to the fishery is limited to licensed fishers. In early 1998, a licence buy-back operation resulted in a reduction in the number of east coast commercial net endorsements from 1029 to 814.
  • Gear restrictions: the length, drop, mesh size and line strength of commercial nets are regulated.
  • Vessel restrictions: there are limitations to vessel size, upgrade and replacement.
  • Closures: spatial and temporal closures have been introduced to protect juvenile and breeding stocks of target species (other than shark), and to reduce conflict among fishing sectors.

Nevertheless, there is no designated shark fishery on the Queensland east coast. Consequently, there are no fishery management plans, regulations or limits designed specifically for sharks and which consider the susceptibility of sharks to fishing pressure.40 Fishers generally avoid large sharks due to their mercury content but this is not mandatory. The lack of specifically designed management arrangements for sharks is of concern as sharks require a more conservative management approach if they are to be harvested sustainably.59

The QDPI&F has indicated that with the implementation of the Coral Reef Finfish Management Plan, resources are being made available to develop an East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery Management Plan that includes sharks. In September 2004, the QDPI&F released a Strategic Directions Document to clarify the process and principles for developing a management plan for the fishery. The fishery will also be assessed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) against the Australian Government’s Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries. For more information on the management of the net fishery see Environmental status – fishes and Management status - Fisheries.

Fisheries research and monitoring

New research is underway to identify the species composition of the commercial shark catch, and to collect information on the biology and reproduction of these animals.

National initiatives such as the National Plan of Action (see Response: international and national management initiatives), and growing recognition of the need to conserve sharks, have prompted renewed efforts to monitor and assess Australian shark populations. Since 2000, the FRDC  Sustainability of Northern Sharks and Rays Phase I and II projects, and the CRC Reef Research Centre Coastal Fisheries Resources Monitoring program, have provided new information on commercial shark fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef. These programs involve placing independent observers on fishing vessels to collect independent information on the commercial shark catch, and to collect biological and life history data on the species taken. The FRDC project also involved workshops and the publication of a new shark identification guide to assist fishers in identifying and recording the species of shark taken as catch and bycatch. Preliminary information from these two projects has already provided new information on the shark catch along the Queensland east coast (see Pressure: species composition of the Great Barrier Reef shark harvest). There has also been new independent research on species such as whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and tiger sharks commenced in recent years.

Collectively, these studies are providing critical information about the life history, movements and distribution of these species. These programs will help to provide managers with a better understanding of the shark fishery and provide much needed biological information on sharks. This type of information will be invaluable for developing stock and risk assessments for the sharks of the Great Barrier Reef. A preliminary risk assessment is being prepared as part of the FRDC Phase II project.

Bycatch and shark finning

A number of recent initiatives have been introduced to reduce the levels of bycatch taken in various fisheries. In 2000, the Queensland East Coast Trawl Fishery Management Plan (Trawl Plan) was introduced. The Trawl Plan included provisions for improved recording of bycatch and made the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices mandatory. Studies conducted in the Northern Prawn Fishery show that these devices reduce the catch of large sharks. However the effectiveness of Bycatch Reduction Devices will ultimately depend on the design of the device, and the size and shapes of the bycatch species.55  Research is currently underway in the East Coast Trawl Fishery to determine the effectiveness of bycatch reduction devices in reducing the catch of bycatch species such as sharks and rays. In 2001, arrangements were introduced under the Trawl Plan that prohibited the retention of sharks taken in trawl nets in the East Coast Trawl Fishery. 20
 

The introduction of bycatch reduction devices is an important step towards reducing the bycatch of sharks taken by trawlers.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has introduced a Bycatch Action Plan for the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. The plan includes measures such as reducing the use of wire traces on longlines, making it easier for sharks to free themselves after being hooked. In June 2005 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority announced that the use of wire traces will be banned across the whole fishery with the ban coming into effect on 1 July 2005. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has also enforced of a limit of 20 sharks and their fins per vessel per trip, and has banned the practice of removing shark fins and discarding the carcass at sea. Shark finning is also banned in the Coral Sea Fishery and fishers must retain the shark carcass with the fins. A management plan for the fishery is nearing completion.

In 2002, the practice of removing shark fins and discarding the carcass at sea was banned in Queensland. The intent of this initiative is to reduce the capacity of fishers to target sharks solely for their fins as the carcasses must be retained with the fins. Under the Australian National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (see below), both state and commonwealth fisheries have an obligation to optimise the use of landed sharks for more than just fins.

Response: international and national management initiatives

Growing concern over the state of shark populations has prompted initiatives to address the management of shark fisheries around the world. In 1999, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) released the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. The plan urges member countries of the FAO to implement National Plans of Action (NPOAs) for their shark fisheries. The NPOAs will form a framework for fisheries managers to assess shark fisheries and develop effective management plans. In 2000, the FAO released Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries relating to the conservation and management of sharks. The Guidelines encompass issues such as shark finning, research and data collection, management principles and legal frameworks for managing shark fisheries, and will help member nations in developing NPOAs and fisheries management plans.

The NPOA framework also recommends the completion of an assessment of shark resources and fisheries. In December 2001, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australia released the Australian Shark Assessment Report providing a comprehensive overview of Australian shark fisheries and management. This assessment was used to develop the Australian NPOA that was released in May 2004. The Australian NPOA is based around six key themes:

  • Reviewing existing conservation and management measures;
  • Improving management and conservation measures;
  • Improving data collection and handling;
  • Undertaking targeted research and development;
  • Undertaking education and awareness raising; and
  • Improving coordination and consultation.

These six themes incorporate 43 actions to be implemented by various environmental and fisheries agencies. The Shark Plan Implementation and Review Committee was established in July 2002 to monitor the progress and implementation of the Plan.

Education and awareness raising

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The need for increased community understanding about the conservation of sharks is gaining recognition, and public education and awareness raising is one of the six themes of the Australian National Plan of Action. In 2004 the Commonwealth Government launched the Shark Education and Awareness Raising Program to coordinate and promote shark education and public awareness programs across Australia. The Marine Education Society of Australasia (MESA) highlighted shark conservation as the theme for Seaweek in March 2005. In conjunction with MESA, the national Program developed shark information sheets, hosted public events and helped MESA coordinate Seaweek shark education activities across Australia. In concert with Seaweek and MESA, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority launched a new web based shark education program for school students, and held special shark education sessions at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

Response: bycatch in the Queensland Shark Control Programs

Concerns have been raised over the impact of the Queensland Shark Control Program (QSCP) on bycatch species. In recent years, changes to the program have reduced the bycatch of dugongs and green turtles in the QSCP (see Environmental status – marine mammals and Environmental status- marine reptiles). The QSCP is investigating the effectiveness of sonic ‘pingers’ to reduce bycatch of cetaceans, and the use of electromagnetic shark deterrent devices which could replace nets and drumlines. The QSCP also records all catch and bycatch species and contractors are trained to release bycatch species alive, including non-threatening shark species.14

Response: conservation of threatened shark species

The Australian Government and various State Governments have introduced a number of conservation measures for threatened shark species. These include protected species listings in Commonwealth and State legislation, and the development of conservation plans to reduce human pressures on these species and promote the recovery of their populations.

Great white shark

The great white shark is listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), and is protected in every Australian state where it occurs. A national recovery plan for the great white shark has also been developed that includes measures to reduce the impacts of commercial and recreational fishing, shark control programs and the trade of white shark products on the species. In October 2004, the great white shark was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). This listing means that any of the 166 member countries of CITES exporting great white sharks or its products, must regulate the trade through export permits or certificates, certify that the specimen was legally obtained, and demonstrate that the trade will not be detrimental to the species’ survival. In the Great Barrier Reef, the great white shark is listed as a protected species under Regulation 29 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, and is protected in Queensland waters under the Queensland Fisheries Act 1994.

Grey nurse shark

The east coast population of grey nurse shark is listed as critically endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and is protected in Australian waters. The grey nurse shark is listed under the Queensland Fisheries Act 1994 as a protected species in Queensland, but is also protected in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia by various wildlife conservation and fisheries acts.33 In the Great Barrier Reef, the grey nurse shark is listed as a protected species under Regulation 29 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. A grey nurse shark recovery plan has also been developed that includes measures to reduce the impact of fishing and shark control programs, improve the recording of incidental catch, and to establish monitoring programs. In December 2002 and 2003, protected areas were established at key grey nurse aggregation sites in Queensland and New South Wales. These sites exclude the types of fishing that pose the greatest threats to grey nurse sharks.

Whale shark

In 2002,the whale shark and basking shark became the first sharks to be listed under Appendix II of CITES, meaning that trade of whale shark products must be controlled through export permits or certificates. The whale shark is also protected in Western Australia and Tasmania, and listed as a ‘matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). The whale shark is also listed as a protected species under Regulation 29 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. A recovery plan for the whale shark has been prepared by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage.

Bizant River shark

The Bizant River shark is listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) due to its extreme rarity, localised distribution and low reproductive rates. Given the lack of information about this species, Pogonowski (2002) recommended the formation of a national recovery team and further research to establish the population status and distribution of this shark. The Department of the Environment and Heritage has prepared a recovery plan for the Bizant River shark that is currently under review.

Sawfishes

Currently, only the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon) is listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), and the green sawfish is the only sawfish protected under state legislation (in New South Wales). However, many sawfish are listed as vulnerable or endangered under the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, and an assessment of the conservation status of Australian marine and estuarine fishes recommends listing of many sawfish species, including those found within the Great Barrier Reef, as threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).33 A recovery plan for sawfish is currently being developed by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, and research is currently being undertaken on the biology, life history and habitat use of sawfish in Northern Australia.31,32

Response: habitat loss and degradation

Addressing water quality and coastal development

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority works together with local governments, stakeholders and state government agencies to address water quality and coastal development issues that affect the Great Barrier Reef. The GBRMPA participates in State and local government impact assessment and regional planning processes to promote land use practices and management that are complementary with the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The management of these issues is described in more detail in Environmental status – water quality.

In September 2001, the GBRMPA released the Great Barrier Reef Catchment Water Quality Action Plan that included recommendations for water quality targets. This lead to the development of Memorandum of Understanding by the Queensland Government and Australian Government in 2002 to develop a joint plan to address declining water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. This process also included a review of water quality issues by an independent scientific panel that concluded that there has been a significant increase in nutrient run-off into the Great Barrier Reef, and that some inshore coral reefs have been affected. A Productivity Commission report into Great Barrier Reef catchments was released in February 2003 that identified declines in water quality, and recommended that programs for improving water quality should be implemented at a sub-catchment level.

In 2003, the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan was launched with the goal of halting and reversing the decline of water quality in the Great Barrier Reef within 10 years. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan will be implemented in partnership with regional Natural Resource Management bodies and other stakeholders to ensure that water quality programs and targets are appropriate for each region. For more information on the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, see Environmental status – water quality.

Protecting biodiversity and preserving ecosystem function

The rezoning of the Marine Park will help protect the Reef’s biodiversity, and maintain the habitats and ecological functions that support species such as the tawny nurse shark (above).
In 2001, the GBRMPA  launched the Representative Areas Program to better protect the biodiversity and ecological functions that support the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. The Representative Areas Program used the best available scientific information to identify separate regions of biodiversity (called bioregions) in the Great Barrier Reef and compared them with existing zoning plans. The process highlighted that under the existing zoning system, less than 5% of the Marine Park was highly protected, and that these protected areas were focused on coral reef habitats. This left some habitat types without any protective zoning, potentially exposing them and the organisms living within them to extractive activities throughout their entire geographic range. This also meant that in some regions, there was inadequate protection of the ecological resources that would be required to help nearby habitats recover should they be subjected to some type of disturbance.

To redress this imbalance, the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was rezoned and the new Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 came into effect on 1 July 2004. The new Zoning Plan has increased the area of ‘no-take’ zones to approximately 33% of the Marine Park, and ensures that a minimum of 20% of each bioregion is afforded adequate protection. While these measures will reduce the direct pressure on some shark species, the intent of the new zoning is to maintain the ecological health of the entire Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. By setting aside an adequate network of ‘no-take’ reserves, the new Zoning Plan will better protect the Great Barrier Reef’s biodiversity, and maintain the ecological functions and biological connections that sustain the Great Barrier Reef. In doing so, the new Zoning Plan will also increase the Reef’s capacity to cope with increasing pressures, and recover from impacts. Overall, the new Zoning Plan will better protect the habitats and biological systems that sustain the sharks and rays of the Great Barrier Reef.

Response: Traditional use and cultural connections

The GBRMPA undertakes a number of activities to manage the traditional use of marine resources. In July 2004, a new system for managing the traditional use of marine resources in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park came into effect as part of the new zoning provisions for the Marine Park. Under the new system, some traditional use of marine resources will continue to be ‘as of right’. Other traditional use of marine resources may be conducted in accordance with a Traditional Owner-developed and GBRMPA-accredited ‘Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement’ (TUMRA).  For more information about these Agreements, see Management status – Indigenous connections with the Great Barrier Reef.

Response: tourism

The GBRMPA  manages tourism through the Marine Park Zoning Plan and permits. These management tools specify where commercial tourism activities may occur and how these activities must be conducted. Permit conditions may include restrictions on the number of visitors permitted at a site per day, restrict access to sensitive areas and apply specific conditions for each activity undertaken at the site. Shark feeding is prohibited in the Marine Park and the GBRMPA has developed guidelines and Best Environmental Practices for divers and snorkellers to minimise their impacts on the flora and fauna of the Great Barrier Reef.

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