July 11, 2019
Ghost nets’ no more as Queensland moves to legislate against the illegal fishing practice
News Source: ABC News
Author(s): Kemii Maguire; Eric Barker
The Queensland Government plans to crackdown on the abandoned or illegal dumping of commercial fishing nets, known as ghost nets, with offenders to face fines and penalties.
The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mark Furner, is expected to hand a sustainable fisheries policy to Parliament next week.
Mr Furner said Queensland has "practically no legislation" addressing the dumping of ghost nets.
The Minister, who was increasingly frustrated with the problem, hoped the legislation would be a deterrent.
"Things like having your name and address marked clearly on your equipment, with heavier fines for those not complying with those rules," he said.
Mr Furner said there was no amount proposed for a fine.
"It's part of our overall discussions with the fishing sector," he said.
The action has gained support from World Animal Protection Australia which warned of damage to marine animals, coral and land.
Nets repurposed into artistic treasure
Indigenous artists in Far North Queensland have been so disturbed by the volume of ghost nets washing ashore, they have turned them into sculptures.
The pieces are on show at a NAIDOC Week arts festival in Cairns.
The Indigenous community of Pormpuraaw, on Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria, have been working with the abandoned nets for a decade.
Pormpuraaw Arts Centre president Sid Bruce Shortjoe said there was no shortage of nets washing up on local beaches.
"After every high tide and monsoon, the beaches are full with nets," Mr Shortjoe said.
"The first time we brought a ghost net in, it was full of dead fish. We burnt that.
The Indigenous artists have been making sculptures of sea-life they consider totems, which Mr Shortjoe said had a beautiful irony.
"The sawfish in my childhood was plentiful," he said.
"Today I can hardly see sawfish because of these ghost nets.
"I am worried about what's going to happen in the future for my generation."
Impact ripples to land, coral and marine life
World Animal Protection Australia echoed Mr Shortjoe's fears and backed the proposed crack down on ghost net dumping.
The executive director Simone Clarke said other Australian species were on the same path.
"We've seen whales die of starvation, they ingest the nets and then slowly over time they literally cannot feed and slowly suffocate," Ms Clarke said.
"Coral is also affecting with nets dragging along the floor, so as you can imagine anything in those waters is affected by these ghost nets one way or another."
Ms Clarke said the greatest concern was the role of illegal fishers.
"Invariably what happens when the [illegal] fishing is done, the nets are cut and discarded into the ocean and not found where they have been fishing.
"Obviously to hide the fact they're fishing there in the first place and then the impact on sea animals," Ms Clarke said.
Mapping the ghost nets
Ghost nets were mapped three years ago in the Gulf of Carpentaria with the aim of identifying the origin of the nets.
World Animal Protection and CSIRO have begun another tracking exercise in the lower parts of the Gulf to determine a change in volume of the nets.
"The Gulf is literally a whole area which tides catch the nets, but also prevalent where illegal fishing and dumping actually happens," Ms Clarke said.
A push for harsher penalties and protection of Australian coastlines has been supported by the animal charity.
"In the past Indigenous ranger groups have done an amazing job with clearing the beaches of getting rid of the nets, but with that comes great impact on the turtle populations," she said.
"We are keen to engage the Government on getting the nets out of the water."