Marine park authority cites excessive and illegal fishing that can hit resilience of reef’s ecosystem
Under-regulated fishing along the Great Barrier Reef is putting the world’s biggest coral reef system at further risk as it deals with repeated mass bleaching events, the Australia government’s marine park authority has found.
Conservationists and recreational fishing groups have told Guardian Australia the Queensland government’s rollout of major fisheries reforms, designed to tackle the issues along the reef, has stalled.
Some recreational fishers have walked away from government-run working groups in frustration, saying they will not rejoin until the state government passes new regulations to cap the amounts and types of fish that can be caught.
Queensland’s fisheries minister, Mark Furner, said the government remained committed to the reforms and they were still “on track”.
The Great Barrier Reef has seen three major outbreaks of coral bleaching in the past five years – events driven by climate heating that can kill and weaken corals and severely disturb the ecosystem.
The federal and state governments agree the reef’s greatest threat is from climate change, but there is also broad agreement that local impacts – including improving water quality and tackling unsustainable fishing – could buy the reef more time.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority quietly published its first broad position statement on fishing in late August, laying out a series of issues. The only previous fishing statement, from 2007, covered just one fishery.
So-called “incidental catch” of at-risk species – including dolphins, whales, dugongs, saw fish, sea snakes, turtles and some shark – was “the most significant fisheries sustainability issue” in the marine park, the authority said.
The use of large nets in one fishery put marine wildlife at risk from entanglements and death.
While there was some regulation, over-fishing was causing significant declines of saucer scallop, east coast Australian snapper, pearl perch, black jewfish and some shark species.
“Over-fishing and illegal fishing can compromise the long-term sustainability of stocks and impact the resilience of the marine ecosystem,” the reef marine park authority’s statement says.