THE LEGAL GREAT BARRIER REEF SHARK FISHERY
I was twelve years old when I first experienced a close encounter with a shark; clearly, it had an impact on who I was to become. It was a few night dives into our trip that I learnt the trick of breathing in a way that would cause my heart to beat faster so the sharks would pick up on it and come really close to me (one of those childhood moments where being sensible was not an option). I can close my eyes and still see the countless sharks hunting in the lights off the back of the boat, this moment has a permanent place in my heart as the spark that lit my fire for sharks. They were moving fast, chasing, reacting so incredibly to my heartbeat, it is rare to see them in their natural form, and I was immediatly obsessed with this encounter.
It was at age 14, two years later that I returned for the first time to this same reef hoping to catch a glimpse of those sharks. I jumped in the water that night, and there were no sharks. What had become of them was a mystery to me, but I soon after learnt about a whole other side to the Great Barrier Reef, one ruled by commercial fishing and the shark trade My image of the perfect and forever safe marine park I grew up in was shattered. This was only weeks before the next 'review' of the fishery.
I want this page to welcome you to the reason I make films, the reason I work with sharks: This is the legal shark fishery in our Great Barrier Reef, one of many legal shark fisheries in Australia, approved by our government and an injustice worthy of attention, and as you do read it, please remember you are the only ones who can stop it by applying pressure to necessary government and by never buying shark meat.
600 TONNES OF SHARK A YEAR
80% FROM WITHIN THE GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AND WORLD HERITAGE AREA.
WELCOME TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
DEDICATED SHARK FISHERIES,
NO SUSTAINABLE EVIDENCE,
MILLIONS OF SHARKS
STILL IN OPERATION TODAY:
There is a fishery in Australia called the East Coast inshore FinFish fishery, in this fishery are more than 100 commercial gillnet vessels that have licenses to target sharks. Their quota is set at 600 tonnes of shark annually. 80% of this (about 480 tonnes) is taken from within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and world heritage area, the rest from south of the GBR. The ECIFF has been a fishery since 1984, but more recently moved into a dedicated shark component, with catch peaking in the last decade.
Since learning of its existence at the age of 14, then witnesessing its continuation in 2009 under the signature of Peter Garett, this fishery and I have become well aquainted. To this day I have not found one peice of evidence in its favor, even the officials and researchers involved admit to being completely void of knowledge sourrounding the potential impacts of this fishery. Proving this fishery is sustainable is something they have failed to do (and claim they can only do by continuing fishing), and sharks are currently extracted in large numbers without insight into the effects, individual species traits, or if they will survive this level of fishing.
In the continuation of fishing in the absence of knowledge, the East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery is in breech of the precautionary principle, regulation 29 of The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999. The government re-approves the continuation of this fishery, every time it comes under review.
Out of the 6 species of shark that dominated the catch in the ECIFF:
3 are listed as ‘near threatened, one is listed as ‘endangered.’
More than 60 species make up both the by catch and target catch, out of the identified species….
7 are classed “data deficient”
18 “Near threatened”
8 “critically endangered”
3 “endangered” (from the IUCN red list of endangered species)
In 2009 alone- This fishery took 18 tonnes of tiger shark
19 tonnes of scalloped hammerhead
27 tonnes of blacktip reef shark
24 tonnes, of what they called ‘unspecified’ shark.
The rest makes a total of 475 tonnes of shark.Not one of these sharks… has been proven sustainable to catch… none of these numbers, has been shown to ensure their future.
The fins of these sharks are being exported to overseas shark fin markets, Australian laws require these fisheries to bring the whole body of the shark back to shore, then the fins are seperated from the body and sold elsewhere, so what happens to the body? Woolworths, fish and chips, fish fingers, these are some of the common outlets of 'flake', aka shark meat. In order for our Great Barrier Reef sharks to supply the export markets for shark fins, the body must be sold here in Australia, usually as cheap meat, worth far less than the fins.
Sharks are basically a non-renewable resource, slow growing, mature late and have few offspring, therefore highly susceptible to fishing pressure. Previous population collapses have occurred dramatically and without warning. There is no such thing as a sustainable shark fishery based on an already suffering population of sharks. All the evidence is right in front of us- this fishery should not exist. The lively hoods of fishermen are always thrown into the argument, but we want the same things they do- a future population of sharks. No one has or ever will profit from a dying fishery. We are putting every other fishery around it at risk by allowing the targeting of an apex predator causing a cascade effect in the ecosystem they control. Not to mention the countless jobs in the tourism industry in our Great Barrier Reef which brings billions of dollars to Australia each year, far surpassing our fisheries. Countries like Palau, Mexico and the Bahamas, are countries that have all realized and acted on the fact that sharks are worth more alive, than dead.
The GBRMPA considers that unselective, targeted fishing of sharks and rays in the ECIFF poses an unacceptable risk to this important functional group of predators and to the natural systems of the Marine Park. Until such time that it is able to be demonstrated that fishing for sharks and rays can be conducted selectively, the GBRMPA does not support targeted fishing of sharks and rays in the ECIFF.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
"Our assessment of the available evidence is that there are no grounds to support the claim that the proposed levels of harvest are sustainable, will protect at-risk species, or will secure the long-term viability of commercial or recreational shark fishing"
- James Cook University
“Sharks inhabiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef are in decline due to over fishing.”
- 28th of September 2011, JCU academics