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The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently raised over A$200,000 to buy shark fishing licences in Queensland’s waters. They estimate the licences, for operating nets in and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, could have been used to catch 10,000 sharks each year. Retiring these licences is a new development in Australian shark conservation, but may also limit locally caught seafood. But do Australia’s sharks need saving, or can we eat them? It depends on where you look. Sustainable sharks Sharks in general are much more vulnerable to overfishing than other fish. Compared to most fish, sharks have far fewer offspring over their lifetimes. As a result, shark populations cannot tolerate the same levels of fishing that fish can sustain. Globally, there is great reason for concern over the status of sharks. About a quarter of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. The high value of shark fins in Asian markets drives a large and often unsustainable shark fishery that reaches across the globe. Australia has an important role to play in combating this trend. Many species that are globally threatened can find refuge in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which has an extensive system of protected areas and comparatively low fishing effort. Despite this potential safe haven, some species in Australia still rest on an ecological knife edge. For example, the great and scalloped hammerheads (which the WWF says will benefit from the licence purchase) are both by-catch species in the Australian fishery and are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered. Australian fishermen don’t head out to catch hammerheads intentionally; most people do not consider the meat palatable. However, their hammer-shaped head is easily entangled in nets. Therefore hammerheads may be highly susceptible to any increase in fishing pressure. Commercial fishers are legally required to have a licence. By buying the licences, WWF can limit the number of active nets in the water. However, not all shark species are as vulnerable to fishing as the iconic hammerhead. Several shark species in Australia are well-managed. For instance, the spot tail shark is fast-growing and has many young, making it relatively resilient to fishing pressure. Many Australians regularly enjoy these species with a side of chips. Species targeted by Queensland’s shark fishery are likely sustainable. The latest fishery assessment published by the Queensland government in 2014 found that catches of most shark species were well within safe limits. Supporting our local shark fisheries is therefore far better than importing shark from overseas where fisheries may be poorly managed. But it is not all good news in Australia. Both the assessment and an independent review found that while Queensland’s shark catch likely is sustainable, we need to be cautious about allowing any increases. Importantly, Queensland’s 2014 shark assessment relies on very limited data. A crucial fishery observer program was cut in 2012. The limited data mean that regulations for Queensland’s shark catches are set conservatively low. Any increase in catch is risky without an assessment based on higher-quality data. A win for fishers and fish Buying up licences in an uncertain fishery may be an effective way to prevent the decline of vulnerable species. Although buying licences is a new move for marine conservation groups in Australia, elsewhere it has proven an effective strategy for conservation and fisheries. For instance, in California, the conservation group Nature Conservancy bought fishing licences for rockfish, some species of which are endangered. The Nature Conservancy now leases those licences back to fishers that promote sustainable fishing methods. The fishers themselves can charge a higher price for sustainable local catches of fish. What started as a move purely for conservation has had benefits for those employed in fisheries. The lesson here is that conservation organisations can be the most productive when they work with, not against, fisheries. The recent shark licence purchase in Australia could be a great opportunity for fishers and conservation organisations to work together to maintain healthy ecosystems and fisheries. But if Australians are serious about protecting sharks, there are other steps we still need to take. Queensland should reinstate the fishery observer program so we have reliable data to assess shark populations. For instance, currently, we don’t know how many sharks are caught as by-catch in other fisheries. Shark control programs designed to protect bathers are also a threat to endangered shark populations. However, data on deaths from shark control in Queensland were not accounted for in the government’s catch limits. Accounting for these missing deaths could make a serious dent in our sustainable catch, an independent review found. There is an opportunity to address these issues in Queensland’s upcoming fisheries management reform. Have your say here. If conservation groups can work with fisheries, a more consistent and sustainable shark-fishing strategy may emerge. Australians can continue to be proud of our efforts to protect marine life, but can still enjoy shark for dinner. Know more: Australian Rivers Institute Authors Christopher Brown Research Fellow, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University Samantha Munroe Postdoctoral research fellow, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University This article was originally published in the
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From the sheep’s back to the resources boom Australia’s economic drivers are constantly changing. We are now in the information age where data has moved from a backroom process of industry to a commodity in its own right. With the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland innovation agenda and the Commonwealth Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, our governments are striving to diversify the economy through science, technology and innovation. However, Australia’s transition to a new knowledge-based economy cannot be achieved by government alone. Join us for a discussion on how university, industry and governments can work together to strengthen our existing industries and create new opportunities to diversify our economy. Professor Neal Ryan’s academic and industrial experiences provide a balanced analysis of the contemporary policies on science, technology and innovation and a framework for a national system of innovation to successfully transition to a knowledge-based economy. Dr. David Tuffley will extend on these themes by investigating the nexus between technology and society and how new technologies work with the society. WHEN: 17 August 2016 TIME: 5.30 – 7.00pm VENUE: Gold Coast – Griffith University G42 4.23 Business Building Adjunct Professor Neal Ryan Griffith University Professor Neal Ryan is the former Pro Vice Chancellor of Research at Southern Cross University and a distinguished Griffith alumnus. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Griffith Sciences. Neal has published 2 books and over 90 journal articles and book chapters. He has been the recipient of 10 ARC grants totalling more than $10 million. His principal academic training was in science and technology policy at Griffith University. Dr David Tuffley Researcher, Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems Griffith University Dr. David Tuffley is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and SocioTechnical Studies at Griffith University’s School of ICT. A regular contributor to mainstream media on the social impact of technology, David is a recognised expert in his field. Before academia David worked as an IT Consultant in Australia and the United Kingdom, a role he continues to perform when not educating the next generation of IT professionals. David is an engaging science communicator of many years’ experience.
Meeting challenges of the future
We have a unique integrated approach to learning that ensures you have a solid foundation of knowledge combined with practical skills and access to our wide portfolio in environmental planning, arts and design, engineering, climate adaptation and science. These cross-disciplinary studies give you the opportunity to expand your education and learn how to balance economic, social and environmental impacts to meet the challenges of a sustainable future.