Australian fishers and the broader community have a keen interest in sharks and rays, and their management and conservation. Sharks are apex predators and an important component of the marine environment, with over 180 species of sharks found in Australian waters.
Some species are highly prized by the recreational fishing community, while others are commercially targeted to supply the Australian community with sustainable seafood.
A small group of shark species is protected under legislation due to their conservation or migratory status. These species include the grey nurse shark, great white shark, dwarf and green sawfishes, and Harrison’s and southern dogfishes, which are protected under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Ensuring all interactions with all species of sharks listed under the EPBC Act are reported is integral to ensure our marine environment remains healthy. An ‘interaction’ is any physical contact a person, boat or fishing gear has with a protected species, including catching and colliding with any of these species.
Limiting the impact of fishing activity on these species is also key to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, and AFMA has management measures in place to minimise the bycatch of protected shark species. AFMA is continuously working to reduce the incidental catch of sharks.
Mitigation measures include:
- a ban on wire traces
- a ban on shark finning
- a requirement for fishers to carry and use line cutters to release sharks (and turtles)
- a restrictions on the retention of migratory shark species
- fishery closures to various methods in order to mitigate the catch of protected sharks.
Provided fishers are operating in accordance with the licence requirements, it is not an offence to interact with a protected species. However, fishers are required to report any protected species interactions through a Threatened, Endangered and Protected Species form, found in their logbooks.
Failure to report an interaction is an offence, and fishers found guilty may face the maximum penalty if convicted. AFMA has developed a Shark and Ray Handling Practices Guide to help commercial fishers return live sharks to the ocean and increase their survival – found at afma.gov.au.
Appropriate handling of all bycatch species, including protected shark species, is taken seriously by AFMA. Evidence of mishandling is taken seriously and may result in enforcement action.