As many of you will be aware, Australia's East Coast population of grey nurse sharks has been considered critically endangered since 2001. Fish Rock is home to one of the largest East coast aggregation sites for this critically endangered grey nurse shark population. Many divers travel to South West Rocks specifically to dive Fish Rock to swim with these sharks and learn more about them.
Injuries and mortality from accidental hooking is recognised as a key threatening process to the survival of the east coast population of grey nurse sharks. Recent research conducted by the NSW Department of Industry and Investment looked at the risk of different fishing gears and techniques to grey nurse sharks at Fish Rock. The study found that:
'Grey nurse sharks clearly interact with static baits deployed close to their aggregations. All bait types were taken at all times of day, and grey nurse sharks were the only bait-takers after dusk. Even the least taken bait types resulted in frequent (10%) shark interactions, demonstrating that bottom-set baits pose a high interaction risk when deployed around grey nurse shark aggregations.
None of the trolled attractants (lures and bait) elicited any reaction from grey nurse sharks. Although there may be indirect effects of sharks targeting fish that have been caught by lures, the lack of any interactions with trolled lures, and the low number of sharks recorded carrying lures suggests that trolling represents minimal direct risk to grey nurse sharks.
Knife jigs and soft plastic jigs pose risks to grey nurse sharks while fished close to the substratum. Most interactions occur through jigs hitting the shark, resulting in foul hooking. This can occur relatively frequently when fishing in close proximity to grey nurse shark aggregations. Benthic-oriented jigs had higher interaction rates than vertical jigs as they are deployed close to the substratum for longer periods of time.'
As a result of these findings the Minister of Primary Industries (as at 28th January 2011), Steve Whan, announced new fishing arrangements for Fish Rock and nearby Green Island. The arrangements would still permit trolling with an artificial fly or lure and commercial fishing, but banned "high risk fishing methods including bait fishing and jigging". This was seen as a suitable alternative to totally closing this site to fishing - i.e. the fishers could still catch their target fish species, but without much risk to the grey nurse sharks. The scientists involved agreed with the amendments, but alas a small, but vocal lobby group of fishers weren't happy at having these restrictions put in place.
Friday before last, after a change in government and as a pre-election promise, the new fishing arrangements, which had been based on sound scientific evidence, were revoked (see attached and http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/05/04/3207131.htm).
The new government has agreed to a three month "consultation period" (even though the modified rules were put in place after a consultation period under the previous government). If we are to change them back to the arrangement which STILL LET PEOPLE FISH, but at much lower risk to the sharks, please submit an response to the NSW government and make some noise! This isn't about banning fishing, its simply about banning those methods which endanger bystander, non-target species such as the grey nurse shark.
For submissions and more info: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/species-protection/conservation/what-current/critically/grey-nurse-shark/gns-review
Cheers, Hayley Gorsuch