19 July 2016


WWF-Australia’s unique conservation approach – to buy and retire a $100,000 shark fishing licence on the Great Barrier Reef – has captured the imagination of people around the world and could lead to the purchase of a second licence.

“We asked for donations and we have been blown away by the response. People from more than 30 countries have reached into their pockets. We’re impressed, surprised and grateful,” said WWF-Australia conservation director Gilly Llewellyn.

“People see our idea as a practical way to save sharks and prevent dugongs, turtles and dolphins being killed as bycatch,” she said.

Ms Llewellyn said WWF was motivated by a series of disturbing facts:

  • In 2010, there were 9 confirmed dugong deaths and three unconfirmed deaths attributed to entanglement in nets in Queensland[i]
  • In 2011 there was an estimated population of only 600 dugongs between Cooktown in the north and near Bundaberg in the south[ii] and current combined levels of mortality from all threats are thought to be unsustainable.[iii]  
  • Earlier this month another dead dugong was found near Townsville with suspected net marks[iv]
  • A 2016 review of the Queensland shark stock assessment found the results were “severely hampered by data limitation” and will continue to yield “very uncertain results and ineffective management advice”[v]
  • Hammerhead sharks on the Great Barrier Reef may have declined by as much as 66% to 83% of the 1960s population level[vi]
  • In 2010-11, scalloped (Sphyrna lewini) and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokorran) represented 15.5% of the weight of all Great Barrier Reef net caught sharks.[vii]
  • The Federal Environment Department is assessing whether scalloped , great and smooth hammerhead sharks should be listed as threatened and has extended the assessment to 30 September 2017[viii]

WWF-Australia will now try to raise $200,000 in total to purchase and retire a second N4 licence that is up for sale. This second licence caught more than 280,000 kg of shark between 1999 and 2006. 

“By preventing both licences from returning to shark fishing we can save about 20,000 sharks each year, including endangered hammerheads,” Ms Llewellyn said.

“Donors can now help stop two massive 1.2 km long nets from sitting in Reef waters and indiscriminately killing almost everything that swims into them."

“Dead dugongs, dolphins and turtles found with net marks indicate these species are dying as bycatch at a time when their populations are under pressure."

“Dugong numbers on the southern Great Barrier Reef are so low losing just one is devastating,” she said. 

Some donors have been concerned that the Queensland Government could simply issue more N4 licences.

Such a move is extremely unlikely. Queensland has had a “limited entry” policy since the mid-90s which restricts the allocation of new fishing licences.

The shark catch on the Reef increased from 222 tonnes in 2014 to 402 tonnes in 2015[ix] which equates to 100,000 sharks (based on each shark weighing an average of 4 kg) [x]

A healthy Reef needs its apex predator – sharks – as well as dugongs, dolphins and turtles.

There are five N4 licences in Queensland entitling operators to target sharks and grey mackerel on nets up to 1.2 km long, or to line fish for other species.

To donate go to WWF’s Protect our oceans appeal page.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571, msymons@wwf.org.au



[ii] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2014, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019, GBRMPA, Townsville.

[iii] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website, About the Reef, Animals, Dugong.

[vi] Analysis of the of the Queensland Shark Control Program records by Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, Director, Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture & College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University

[vii] A. Tobin, J. Smart, A. Harry, R. Saunders, C. Simpfendorfer (2014). Estimating fishing mortality of major target species and species of conservation interest in the Queensland east coast shark fishery. Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture, Table 1.

[viii] Australian Government Department of Environment website, Extensions to EPBC Act listing assessment and decision timeframes.

[x] Review of management arrangements for the east coast Queensland shark fishery 2014, Wildlife Trade Operation Condition 7, Queensland Government.