Gillnet-free zones to protect endangered marine species

Fraser Barton |

An end to gillnet fishing in areas off Queensland’s north will better protect endangered sawfish.
An end to gillnet fishing in areas off Queensland’s north will better protect endangered sawfish.

Threatened and endangered marine species in northern Australian waters will be better protected across five net-free fishing zones.

Sawfish, turtles and dugongs in coastal waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria will be among those to benefit from the roll out of gillnet-free fishing zones by the Queensland government.

Gillnet fishing involves using fine-meshed nets at river mouths or estuaries.

The five zones were picked following consultation with local Gulf community members, commercial fishers, recreational stakeholders, non-governmental organisations and traditional owner groups.

They will be located in the Northern and Western Gulf, Norman River, Pormpuraaw and Topsy Creek and stretch from the state’s west coast to the Northern Territory border. 

The government will provide $12 million in support packages for impacted commercial fishers, with the changes to come into effect on May 17.

“The gillnet-free zones we’re implementing in the Gulf of Carpentaria will give the commercial fishing industry the certainty it needs to plan for a sustainable future,” Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said.

“It will also enable us to meet our obligations to conserve important marine species and protect one of Queensland’s most precious marine ecosystems.”

It is estimated just over 2.5 per cent of Queensland seafood comes from gillnet fishing.

Areas covered by the new gillnet-free zones represent less than 10 per cent of the commercial fishing take, the government said.

Environmental lobbyists praised the decision as providing vital safe havens for some of the world’s last remaining viable populations of sawfish, as well as other threatened species.

“The Gulf of Carpentaria has long been neglected when it comes to protecting areas from the impacts of commercial gillnet fishing,” Leonardo Guida from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said. 

A combined $185 million investment by the state and federal governments is set to phase out gillnet fishing from areas across Queensland by 2027.

The state government will roll out $90 million in compensation for fishers in areas on Queensland’s east coast with up to $125 million for deck hands and industries involved in the commercial fishing sector.