Sunday, 2 March 2008

Hammerheads under the hammer

One of the most frequently caught species in the Queensland shark fishing industry is about to be declared endangered globally by the IUCN. According to the IUCN, the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) has declined precipitously worldwide (by 95% or more in some regions). Despite this, Queensland's Department of Primary Industry & Fisheries has no plans to reduce the commercial harvest.

This species is estimated to make up about 18% of the annual shark take in Queensland. (Why is that an estimate? DPI&F do not require fishers to identify their take beyond 'whaler' or 'hammerhead', so the figure is derived from a brief survey undertaken by observers. It may or may not be accurate.)

Currently, 25 vessels are licenced to take sharks as their main catch along the state's coast, whereas another 200 or so have licences to sell shark as bycatch. Between them, they landed approximately 700 tonnes in 2006. The catch has declined markedly over the past few years and is now approximately 50% of the 2003 total*. DPI&F attribute this to a buyout of licences. But in the absence of a regular program of stock assessment, it is difficult — if not impossible — to make that link. Indeed, DPI&F refer to it as a 'likely' cause rather than a confirmed one.

Although conservation groups have been pressing for the suspension of shark fishing, DPI&F refuses to consider this option. The Department argues
that a large proportion of the shark catch is taken when targeting other species. Consequently, it is likely that shark will continue to be taken in significant numbers regardless of whether a formal shark fishery is permitted to continue or not.
They go on to justify this.
Therefore, DPI&F believes that the package of arrangements, which focuses on collecting detailed information on the fishery to better underpin future management, will actually result in a better conservation outcome than if the fishery was closed.

Commonwealth legislation may eventually force DPI&F's hand on this. In the meantime, it would be good if they showed some foresight.

* Which was twice the 1999 total.

QDPI&F. The Queensland East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery, background paper: sharks and rays. (PDF 308 KB)
QDPI&F. Fishery assessment update 1988 – 2003: Queensland East Coast shark. (PDF 328 KB)
QDPI&F. The Queensland East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery. Have your say: Regulatory Impact Statement and draft Public Benefit Test, December 2007 (PDF 1.2 MB)

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