Several species of shark are protected in Australia by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Sometimes sharks interact with fishing gear.
Sharks belong to a group of cartilaginous fishes called elasmobranchs, who use gills to obtain oxygen from the water.
Some sharks are bottom feeders, with a specially designed jaw to help them pick up prey from the bottom of the ocean. Others are filter feeders, straining plankton from the water. Some sharks lay eggs, some bear live young, and some have eggs which hatch internally.
Several species of shark are protected in Australia. These include:
- grey nurse shark
- great white shark
- dwarf sawfish
- green sawfish
- shortfin mako
- school shark
- Harrisson’s dogfish
- southern dogfish.
Fishing and sharks – how they interact
Sharks can interact with many types of fishing gear.
An ‘interaction’ is any physical contact a person, boat or fishing gear has with a protected species that causes the animal stress, injury or death.
While there are some species of shark that have been protected by government legislation, gummy shark can be commercially caught within sustainable catch limits.
Another category of shark species are those that are neither protected nor targeted for commercial fishing. These species of shark are caught by Commonwealth fisheries incidentally during fishing operations. This incidental catch is referred to as bycatch.
Management measures are in place to minimise the bycatch of shark species and AFMA is continuously working to reduce the incidental catch of sharks.
AFMA collects data on interactions with protected species through our monitoring programs.
- Logbooks – All fishers are required to report any interactions they have through their logbooks.
- Observers – Observers are AFMA officers who travel on Australian fishing boats to collect biological data and make environmental observations which contributes to the monitoring of fishing interactions with protected species.
How AFMA and industry minimise interactions
AFMA has a variety of management measures in place which mitigate the catch of protected shark species. These include:
- a ban on wire traces
- a ban on shark finning
- a requirement for line cutters
- a limit on the retention of migratory shark species
- closures intended to mitigate catch of other protected species which incidentally mitigate catch of these shark species (e.g. area closures under the Australian Sea Lion Management Strategy).
Australia’s second National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012 was released in July 2012.
The plan identifies how Australia will manage and conserve sharks, and ensure that Australia meets international conservation and management obligations. The plan identifies research and management actions across Australia for the sustainability of sharks, including actions to help minimise the impacts of fishing on sharks.
Australia’s second National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012 (Department of Agriculture website)
Dogfish are a group of deepwater shark species. The Upper-Slope Dogfish Management Strategy was developed to promote the recovery of Harrisson’s Dogfish and Southern Dogfish.
Porbeagle, shortfin mako and longfin mako sharks are listed as migratory species under the EPBC Act.
Provided an operator is fishing in accordance with an accredited AFMA fisheries management plan, the operator may keep and trade these migratory sharks that are brought up dead, however, live sharks must be returned to the sea unharmed as per advice from the Department of the Environment and Energy.
All catches of these migratory sharks, whether kept or discarded, must be reported in the appropriate logbooks.
Gummy sharks are the only targeted sharks in Commonwealth fisheries. They are targeted in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery.
When targeting gummy shark, fishers may also incidentally catch school shark which are considered to be overfished.
School shark is subject to a rebuilding strategy with limits on catch levels that will support rebuilding of the stock. Targeting school shark is not permitted.
View the School Shark Rebuilding Strategy
Protected species that are identified as high risk bycatch species are dealt with through bycatch and discard workplans for each fishery. The workplans are integrated into the management arrangements for each fishery, and are reviewed every 12 months and formally renewed every two years.
Read more about bycatch and discarding workplans.
To help commercial fishers return live sharks to the ocean and increase their survival, AFMA in collaboration with Monash University and the shark fishing industry, have developed Shark and Ray Handling Practices – A guide for commercial fishers in southern Australia.
Read more about Shark and Ray Handling Practices.
Shark finning is simply the practice of removing a shark’s fins from the body for separate sale. The term is sometimes used to describe the practice when a shark’s fins are removed to sell and the rest of the body is discarded at sea.
Read more about shark finning in our shark finning FAQs.