Last week we welcomed the release of revised strategy to protect dolphins from being killed in the gillnet sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) off southern Australia. This is a fishery that in 2017 and 2018 killed some 120 dolphins following the introduction of a strategy to mitigate dolphin bycatch, a strategy which we condemned. We are cautiously optimistic that the revised strategy, with the addition of the South Australian Dolphin Zone, which will reduce the numbers of dolphins killed, particularly by tightening the rules around the number of dolphins that can be killed before boats are excluded from the zone. We will continue to be hopeful, whilst monitoring the situation closely in the coming months.
Bycatch, the incidental catch of non-target wildlife during fishing, is an issue that Humane Society International has given significant priority to over the years with good reason. In most cases, fishers do not wish to catch these animals, which often damage fishing nets or equipment. Whilst it is often an issue of conservation concern threatening the future of a species, it is always an animal welfare concern due to the incredible suffering these animals experience before dying. However bycatch in fisheries is often a hidden problem. We therefore consider it an issue that needs to have a spotlight shone on it and for solutions to be found.
On this front we feel that our efforts have been very successful. Some key highlights are:
Whilst this is a significant legacy and ongoing program of work, internationally we also have worked hard in recent years to establish a Bycatch Working Group at the International Whaling Commission to help countries cooperate to solve the significant global problem of both whales and dolphins being caught and killed in fisheries.
Domestically HSI also acts as the conservation representative on the Commonwealth Fisheries Marine Mammal Working Group which gives expert advice on marine mammal bycatch issues so that greater progress will be made across all Commonwealth fisheries to reduce marine mammal bycatch, in particular seals, sea lions, and dolphins.
Clearly there is much more to do to ensure that the impact of fisheries on marine wildlife is minimised. Getting unintended catch as close to zero as possible must be the ongoing goal and remains a core part of our work.
Alexia Wellbelove is a Senior Program Manager at the Humane Society International (HSI). She joined the organisation in 2009. With over two decades experience in conservation her current focus is environmental policy, marine conservation (particularly marine mammal and fisheries bycatch) and wildlife trade. She helped found the Places You Love alliance and serves on a number of state and federal government committees. She has represented Australia as a member of the delegations to both the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
Image credit: George Clerk
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