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Legal Action to Save the Grey Nurse Shark

With the plight of grey nurse sharks growing ever more dire, HSI supported the Nature Conservation Council' s (NCC) fight in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to increase the protection around their key aggregation sites.

In 2007, the NCC lodged a legal challenge against the NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery, arguing that this commercial fishery is continuing to have a significant impact on critically endangered grey nurse sharks. With as few as 500 of these sharks believed to be surviving off the east coast of Australia, the death of even one individual is considered a significant impact on the population. The NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery is known to kill at least four grey nurse sharks every year, and therefore should not have received continued approval to operate under Australia' s Commonwealth environmental legislation.

To reduce the impact of this fishery on grey nurse sharks, the legal challenge requested stronger conditions be placed on the NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery including, 1500m closures around 18 key aggregation sites in NSW waters, the mandatory use of non-offset circle hooks, and the banning of wire traces across the fishery.

After three hearings, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal recognised the immense threat to grey nurse shark from fishing activity. Disappointingly however, it decided that the court alone did not have the power to prevent the extinction of grey nurse sharks, and that with all the other factors acting to the detriment of grey nurse shark populations, on its own the fishery was not damaging to the survival of the species. The tribunal therefore determined that the responsibility to act to protect grey nurse sharks lay with the NSW Department of Primary Industries. This decision dealt a devastating blow to efforts to further the protection and survival of grey nurse sharks.

As a condition of the NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery approval, The NSW Department of Primary Industries was required to action some form of fishery closures for grey nurse sharks. On 16 November 2007, the deadline for their implementation, a closure applying to commercial fishers was announced at only one site (Magic Point in Maroubra), with a further closure at Green Island near South West Rocks to come into effect in May 2008. Despite the obvious inadequacies of these minimal closures, this announcement paved the way for the re-accreditation of the fishery by the Environment Minister.

HSI continues to push for greater protection of grey nurse sharks through our sustained lobbying efforts and continued involvement in the National Shark Recovery Group. Comprised of State and Federal government representatives, scientists, fishing industry representatives and members of non-government organisations, this group meets annually to discuss domestic and international policies to further the conservation status of shark species in Australian waters.






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