Shark protection on agenda
PHOTOS of grey nurse sharks, which have been hooked by fishermen have helped convince the State Government that more needs to done to protect the endangered species on the Mid North Coast.
The government has assured environmental groups it will consider tightening fishing restrictions off South West Rocks where the critically endangered sharks exist.
At the same time, greater protection for grey nurse shark colonies may follow off Coffs Harbour as the government reviews its Solitary Island Marine Park policy.
Environmental groups have welcomed news that Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan will look at tightening fishing restrictions.
Fish Rock and nearby Green Island near South West Rocks were declared as critical habitat for the sharks in November 2002, resulting in fishing and diving regulations.
However, Mr Whan said despite these restrictions, research has shown that a number of grey nurse sharks have been hooked by fishers.
“The NSW Government is concerned about the conservation of grey nurse sharks and is committed to preventing the extinction of this species,” Mr Whan said.
“Fish Rock is one of the most significant and iconic grey nurse shark aggregation sites on the east coast of Australia, recording the second highest numbers in the 2010 census of the species.”
Mr Whan said any changes to fishing restrictions would be decided after consultation with the local community and the fishing industry.
Latest estimates from a population census commissioned by the Commonwealth suggested the total population size of grey nurse sharks was less than 1500 individuals on the East Coast.
John Jeayes of the North Coast Environment Council said real protection was well overdue.
“Mr Whan is absolutely right about the need for protection at Fish Rock and Green Island,” Mr Jeayes said.
“It was hypocritical to declare critical grey nurse shark habitat in 2002 and at the same time allow live baiting and bottom fishing.
“I have had the wonderful experience of diving there with the sharks myself but it saddened me to see some sharks with hooks embedded in their mouths and sometimes protruding from their gills.
“Recreational fishermen claim they do not target the sharks, but if you put a fillet or live bait in front of them they will take it. The injuries they suffer can lead to a cruel, lingering death.”