WA Department of Fisheries Fails to Protect Endangered Sea Lions
The WA Department of Fisheries has failed to make critical changes designed to protect endangered Australian sea lions from being killed in shark fishing nets off WA’s coast, environment groups revealed today in a submission to the Federal Government.
Official records show that without observers on boats the numbers of Australian sea lions and dolphins killed in shark gillnets is likely to be grossly under-reported. This makes it impossible to properly protect these species, but the WA Department of Fisheries is still refusing to implement an observer program.
Fewer than 12,500 Australia Sea Lions are left in Australian waters, and only 2000 in WA. Documents provided to the Department show that even a small number of sea lion deaths could put them at risk of extinction. Deaths in gillnets is the single biggest threat to the survival of native Australian sea lions.
In its submission to the Federal Environment Department – which is reviewing an application from the Western Australian Department of Fisheries for export approval for the gillnet and longline fisheries – conservation groups highlighted the failure of the industry to meet government guidelines and implement an observer program to detail its impact on sea lions and dolphins.
“The WA Fisheries Department has failed to meet a basic condition set by the Federal Government and implement an observer program to monitor sea lion deaths in the increasingly controversial shark gillnet fishery,” coalition spokesperson Tim Nicol from Conservation Council of WA said.
“Continuing to rely on fishermen to report deaths is no longer acceptable. In South Australia few deaths were reported until observer based studies identified up to 374 sea lions were dying every 18 months, and also uncovered a further 56 dolphin deaths.”
“The Government cannot re-approve this fishery until the Department meets its commitment to tell us how many sea lions and dolphins are being killed, and tells us how they will protect vulnerable marine life from this fishery.”
The South Australian shark gillnet fishery now has compulsory video or observer coverage. Earlier this month, a section of the fishery became the first to be closed by Federal Authorities under the new rules after a sea lion death. The closure will be in place until May 2013.
In its submission, conservation groups request the Federal Environment Department to set a deadline for action by the WA Fisheries Department to implement an observer program and buffer zones around sea lion breeding colonies; and also reject the application for export approval.
Other concerns raised were about the sustainability of fishing for sharks, particularly dusky and gummy sharks where there is great uncertainty about remaining populations. Dusky sharks are currently under consideration for listing under environmental protection legislation.
The coalition of environment groups is Conservation Council of WA, Conservation Council of SA, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Humane Society International.