Conservation groups are calling on the Queensland and Northern Territory state governments to ban the fishing of scalloped hammerhead sharks after their global conservation status was upgraded to Critically Endangered.
Scalloped hammerheads can legally be fished off the Queensland and Northern Territory coasts, including in the supposed sanctuary of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
In its listing, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) described the species as declining and recommended prohibiting all fishing for the species.
In Australia, scalloped hammerhead populations have declined by up to 80%.
Currently the shark is listed as ‘conservation dependent’ under Australia’s environment laws – the lowest rating for threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. As conservation dependent, the species can still be caught by commercial fishers and the fins and flesh sold, providing certain conditions to promote the recovery of the shark are met.
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist and spokesperson at the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), said it was critical we heed the leading scientific advice and cease fishing for the scalloped hammerhead.
“Like all sharks, scalloped hammerheads are essential to the health of our oceans, and our Great Barrier Reef, because they keep food webs in check,” said Dr Guida.
“The removal of sharks from the Reef is identified by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as an ongoing ‘high-risk’ threat to Reef health. Sharks are critical to the resilience of the Reef, especially when we consider the challenge of warming waters.”
“Urgent action must be taken by the Queensland government to remove gillnets catching Critically Endangered hammerheads, which also includes great hammerhead sharks – and other species – from our Reef.”
Queensland government data has shown that 3,359 endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks were caught by commercial fishers in Queensland’s east coast gillnet fishery in 2018, and more than half – 1,967 – were thrown back. Because of the stress and inability to breathe properly during capture, only two in 10 hammerheads caught are alive when they are thrown back. Those that do survive the catch and are thrown back have a slim chance of survival.
Scalloped hammerhead sharks are caught for their fins and flesh. Fins are the most valuable part of the body and some of the most highly prized on the market. The flesh – commonly referred to as ‘flake’ – is also sold either domestically or exported.
Lawrence Chlebeck, Marine Biologist at Humane Society International (HSI) said a recent independent report found that Queensland and the Northern Territory had not met several of the conditions to promote the recovery of the species by the March 2018 deadline.
“Scalloped hammerhead protection in Australian waters needs to be urgently reviewed in light of its deteriorating global conservation status,” he said.
“It must shock the Australian public to learn a globally critically endangered species is being fished in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and its meat and fins exported overseas.
“We want to see this species recognised as ‘endangered’ under federal environment laws and more attention paid to its conservation.”
Humane Society International nominated the scalloped hammerhead for listing as endangered on the Cwth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2012 and it was listed as ‘conservation dependent’ in 2018. However, the Federal Environment Minister’s scientific committee has advised the species also qualifies for protection as endangered which would prevent trade.