The recreational fishing industry in Western Australia could be in for a boost if a proposal to lift the state’s shark ban is accepted.
Fishing for shark has been prohibited for 12 years in the state’s north-west due to overfishing. But fishing groups says the shark population is now thriving and that the voracious predators are diminishing stocks of species targeted by recreational anglers. Commercial fishing interests also support a removal of the ban and are urging for the return of commercial line, trap and trawl fishing. Recfishwest, which represents an estimated 750,000 anglers in WA, argues that reliable scientific evidence of shark populations is needed, claiming that as many as seven in ten fish hooked by anglers are lost to sharks.
“In terms of stock assessments and population biology, you have to knock a few fish on the head to understand the stock status and the age-based structure of the populations,” said Chief Executive Andrew Rowland. Information about the number and type of species, and the mixture of the different shark populations, was all important in helping solve the problem, he added
However, the new WA Fisheries Minister, Don Punch, who will meet industry representatives next week, said the prevalence of shark depredation could be due to more people fishing. And the marine conservation group, Sea Shepherd, said any return to commercial shark fishing in the north-west would amount to a cull, with lethal scientific trials being rolled out nationally. ‘There are non-lethal ways to mitigate against shark predation,” he said.
The WA Government is looking at ways to repel sharks without harming them. Fisheries scientist Gary Jackson has been trialing devices that rely on electric fields, magnetic forces and acoustic recordings of orca cries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development shark scientist, Matias Braccini, said it was biologically impossible for there to be a population explosion.
However, shark depredation is being increasingly reported in other regions. “The one persistent topic around the country is shark depredation,” said data collection expert Stefan Sawynok. “If you lose half the fish you catch in a day to sharks, you are effectively having to catch twice your bag limit to be able to take fish home.”
North Queensland charter industry veteran Ryan Moody said the trend could cripple the region’s charter and recreational fishing business. “People don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on fuel, bait and tackle only to come home with two fish out of the many they hook,” he said. “In some instances, people are losing 80% of what they hook to sharks.”