Threatened sharks in Australian waters need bigger areas free from industrial fishing, say the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI), after a major new study revealed an alarming overlap between longline fishing and shark hotspots.
The southern Great Barrier Reef was found to be one area globally where the overlap between shark hotspots and industrial fishing activity was most prevalent.
The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, analysed 15 years of satellite tracking data from 1804 sharks across 23 species, including some of the most iconic species in the world.
Hotspots for sharks were also highlighted in the south and north west Australian areas of the Indian Ocean and the East Australian current that runs down the east of the country in the Pacific.
The research then analysed the movement of longline fishing vessels in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans finding that for several shark species, a third or more of their roaming habitat was exposed to fishing.
In waters around Australia, great white sharks, tiger sharks and porbeagles all had at least a quarter of their habitats visited by longline fishing vessels. Globally threatened mako sharks were also at risk from tuna fisheries around Australia.
Almost two thirds of the 23 species analysed are assessed as either Endangered or Threatened globally by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
For the first time the study shows clearly the ocean areas where sharks like to move, with waters off the south of Australia, in the Northwest and on the east of the country highlighted as favourite spots for sharks.
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS, said: "This confirms what we've always feared – sharks simply don't have enough places to swim that are free from the key threat of industrial fishing.
"We know from other studies that shark numbers are plummeting. Now we see this overlap between shark's favourite places and the thousands of hooks that dangle from fishing lines that are kilometres long.”
Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns at HSI, said: "Australia must protect shark hotspots and critical habitats and be a life raft for these species.
"Next month, governments at a major wildlife conservation meeting in Geneva will be debating new trade measures for mako sharks. This report is yet more compelling evidence for governments to vote yes to that important proposal.”
The study, Global spatial risk assessment of sharks under the footprint of fisheries, is published today in Nature.
AMCS and HSI have joined together to protect sharks with their Shark Champions campaign that has so far recruited tens of thousands of Australians to advocate for better shark protection.
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