The NT sharks quietly going extinct

By : Humane Society International December 19, 2019

A new report has highlighted the dire status of shark and ray species threatened with extinction in the Northern Territory, including two species of river shark and three species of sawfish.

Commissioned by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and the Humane Society International (HSI), the report reviewed how well Australia’s threatened sharks and rays were recovering under Australia’s national environment laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

It found that commercial fishing and habitat destruction are both the leading cause of species declines and the main reason for the lack of recovery. Other key factors include the effects of warming oceans.

The conservation groups are calling on Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley, who administers the Act, to take action on the report’s recommendations. These include protecting NT habitats critical for the survival of shark species from the damaging fishing practice of gill netting; changes to water flow from damming; and water extraction for mining, gas and agriculture.

The groups are also calling for the reform of the EPBC Act to make funding for and implementation of recovery actions compulsory by law in order to stem the extinction tide for Australia’s endangered sharks and rays.

Shark scientist and AMCS spokesperson Dr Leonardo Guida said the NT’s river sharks and sawfish highlighted in the report are amongst the world's most endangered fishes and urgently required help before they disappear completely.

“There’s a silent extinction crisis happening in our waters and sharks are facing the brunt of it. Northern Australia is the global lifeboat for river sharks and sawfish, and if we can’t protect them here, the world - not just Australia - may very well lose these remarkable and iconic species for good,” Dr Guida said.

“Gillnetting is recognised as one of the main issues driving river sharks and sawfish to extinction. We’ve seen sawfish released with their saw-like snouts cut off by fishers because of convenience, resulting in the animal’s slow death from starvation and blood loss over days or weeks.

“The impact from accidental capture in commercial fisheries is compounded by habitat loss and degradation. We’ve already seen fish kills in Australia because of poor water management and the climate crisis.”

The report has been published while a year-long review of the EPBC Act is underway. AMCS and HSI have provided the report to the EPBC Act review panel in order to highlight the ongoing challenges facing threatened sharks and to recommend mandatory funding for recovery actions under the Act. 

Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist at Humane Society International said: “We need to introduce robust solutions if we really want to save our sharks and our oceans for future generations. The great thing is that we have solutions at the ready, we just need the political will.

“The 20 year review of the EPBC Act is a real opportunity to look at what has and hasn’t been working for Australia’s marine wildlife. It can guide the Australian government to target funding towards measures that really work for species that urgently need their stewardship.”

Written by Dr Nick Rayns, former Executive Manager of Fisheries at the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the report makes recommendations for improving the recovery of 11 threatened shark and ray species. Measures put forward include improving accountability, setting clear recovery targets and funding for recovery and management plans.

The report also recommends developing a national shark strategy with set goals and timeframes for recovery aims; using close kin genetic techniques to reliably estimate the current population sizes of each threatened shark species and engaging Indigenous Australians in the development of recovery plans.

Sawfish and river shark images


Image Credit: D Ross Robertson

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About HSI Australia

HSI concentrates on the preservation of endangered animals and ecosystems and works to ensure quality of life for all animals, both domestic and wild. HSI is the largest animal protection not-for-profit organisation in the world and has been established in Australia since 1994