Seal death scandal
The inertia of the Commonwealth and NSW Governments in issues of marine conservation has led Humane Society International (HSI) once again to turn to the courts to secure protection for vulnerable marine species – this time seals, sea lions and grey nurse sharks. In Seaweek 2007 HSI calls upon the Commonwealth and NSW Government to make meaningful commitments to reduce the threats to these species’ survival, and to acknowledge their importance alongside larger international icons such as the great white, whale and basking sharks.
“It is a scary but overlooked fact that Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals off southern Australia have the third and fourth highest entanglement rates with fishing gear in the world (1.3% and 0.9% respectively), resulting in hundreds of deaths each year. Both species are protected under law, sea lions additionally as a threatened species,” said Michael Kennedy, HSI Director. “Meanwhile grey nurse sharks remain critically endangered, yet they are regularly killed in beach nets in NSW, and have still not been given comprehensive protection in their aggregation sites.”
1478 seals and sea lions are estimated killed each year through entanglement in commercial fishing gear, although the real number may be far higher as many snared animals die at sea and are not recorded. Simple and inexpensive measures are available to the fishing industry to reduce these numbers (for example, plastic-free bait boxes, or a reduction in the use of packing tape) but so far they are voluntary and the industry has shown little interest in implementing them.
“The previous Commonwealth Minister for Environment and Heritage accredited the main fishery responsible for the deaths (the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery) as ‘ecologically sustainable’ in December 2006. HSI is challenging this decision based on the poor ecological record of the fishery in many areas, including seal and sea lion bycatch. In late 2006, the Government scaled back the public’s right to question ministerial decisions. This is therefore the last time that the public will have access to the courts to protect vulnerable wildlife impacted by export commercial fisheries” added Mr. Kennedy.
The Government has loudly proclaimed its leadership of shark conservation this week, yet its inability to protect its very own grey nurse shark again has HSI considering court action. The grey nurse shark is possibly Australia’s most endangered marine species, with a fragile population of around 500. Yet both State and Commonwealth Governments are reluctant to offer it meaningful protection in its aggregation sites or protect it against significant manmade threats such as beach netting. “HSI is considering legal options to ensure that no more grey nurse sharks are killed in beach nets, and is supporting the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales in their legal action to try to protect aggregation sites. If Australia was truly a world leader in marine conservation we would not have to go to these lengths to protect our own species” said Mr Kennedy.