A recent court case resulting in a $10,000 fine for fishers illegally caught in possession of sharks and whitespotted guitarfish has revealed an urgent need for the strengthening of fisheries monitoring in Queensland, marine conservationists say.
The commercial trawl fisher and his deckhand were caught by fisheries patrol officers in Moreton Bay during a routine inspection in 2018. They will not receive criminal convictions.
Although the shark species found onboard their vessel were unknown, the whitespotted guitarfish found is globally listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.
Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said a combination of on-board cameras and observers are urgently needed to prevent fishers illegally keeping or killing threatened wildlife.
“While it is encouraging to see routine inspections working, irresponsible and illegal fishing needs to stop at the source. It’s too late when the animals are already dead,” Dr Guida said.
“We share the state government’s vision for Queensland’s waters to remain healthy and resilient so they can support fishing in the future. But healthy and resilient marine ecosystems depend on fishers sticking to the rules. Having remote cameras and human observers on fishing boats is a sure-fire way for the public to be confident illegal fishing isn’t happening.”
Since 2012 there has been no observer program across Queensland’s fisheries, resulting in the widely acknowledged under-reporting of threatened marine life killed such as turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
Dr Guida added: “We’ve got clear evidence our threatened species are at serious risk. Whitespotted guitarfish are globally listed as critically endangered. Although Australia represents one of their last remaining, relatively healthy populations, when you have fisheries operating without oversight you have to ask yourself, “For how long?”
“Worryingly, the fishers were not convicted but received a $10,000 fine. Without observation, officers can only do so much and it makes you wonder how many other illegal activities have gone undetected.”
AMCS supports and is working to help achieve the Queensland Government’s Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027.