4 May 2019


Disturbing imagery obtained by WWF-Australia shows the destructive impact of commercial gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Dead sharks are stacked up to waist height on the deck at a time when there is worldwide concern about declining shark numbers and growing awareness of their importance to Reef health.

The pictures were taken earlier this year in the central Great Barrier Reef region. Among the catch are species whose conservation status is of concern including hammerhead sharks, sawfish and a marine turtle.

An analysis shows hammerhead sharks on the Great Barrier Reef may have declined by up to 83% of the 1960s population level.

Both scalloped and great hammerheads are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List as endangered. Australian fisheries account for 8.5% of the global hammerhead catch (based on the 2001-2011 average catches).

A marine turtle, believed to be a flatback, is seen still stuck in the gill net and sawfish, with their rostrums cut off, are also heaped up on the deck. A zoologist recently described sawfish as the most endangered of all sharks and rays.

“There is nothing illegal in any of these images, in some ways that makes them more disturbing. These pictures show that gill nets are indiscriminate killers in that they drown whatever swims into them including many iconic and threatened species” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.

WWF-Australia is advocating for the Queensland Government to ban gill nets from north of Cooktown through to the tip of the Cape to create a Net Free North – an 85,000 km2 refuge – due to its importance as a sanctuary for threatened marine wildlife.

Tens of thousands of Australians have joined this campaign so far and we are asking for people to get involved here: https://wwf.org.au/get-involved/net-free-reef/

Over the past three years, WWF-Australia’s supporters helped us buy and retire three commercial gill net licences operating on the Reef, including two of the Reef’s five industrial sized gill net (shark) fishing licences.

Mr O’Gorman said there is a vital role for the Federal government to help reduce the carnage.

“We’re calling on the next Australian government to help create a Net Free North and to end targeted shark fishing in the Great Barrier Reef by providing adequate financial adjustment for affected fishers to remove the last 3 remaining industrial sized gill nets from the whole GBR,” he said.