Marine conservationists hope a revised Commonwealth Government fisheries agency strategy released today will result in fewer dolphins being killed in one of its largest fisheries.
In 2017 and 2018, some 120 dolphins drowned in gillnets fishing for gummy shark that are dropped into the waters off South Australia, Victoria and around Tasmania in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery.
But the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s updated “Dolphin Mitigation Strategy” is a positive step towards making the fishery less of a hazard for these iconic ocean mammals, say the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI).
Tooni Mahto, fisheries campaign manager at AMCS, said: “We really hope this is the start of a sustained drop in the number of dolphins being killed as so-called ‘bycatch’ in this fishery.
“Often when operators interact with a dolphin, it results in the animal’s death by drowning. We welcome the establishment of the South Australian Dolphin Zone that sets strict rules for the number of times operators can have these interactions, before they are banned from fishing in that high risk area for dolphins.”
The revised strategy makes several changes, including the establishment of the South Australian Dolphin Zone, due to the disproportionate number of dolphin deaths and the importance of this area for dolphins. If operators can not keep their interactions below a certain level they will be excluded from the Zone but will still be allowed to fish elsewhere in the fishery.
Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at HSI Australia, said: “The killing of dolphins in fisheries is an issue of significant concern to Australians – no one wants to see these animals suffering in fishery nets at the level they have been in recent years, including the community who have joined us in calling for a reduction in dolphin deaths.
“Whilst we are encouraged by the tightening of the strategy, the real proof will be in a significant and ongoing decline in the number of dolphins killed across the fishery. We look forward to working with the industry to ensure this occurs.”
Fishers use gillnets in a large sector of the fishery that stretches from waters off South Australia to Victoria and around Tasmania.
AMCS and HSI are calling on the government to commit to a dedicated strategy to reduce the bycatch of Australia’s ocean wildlife around the country.