Influence of recreational fishers in international shark protection exemption revealed by FOI documents
Humane Society International (HSI) Campaign Director Michael Kennedy said today that, “Commonwealth Freedom of Information (FOI) documents secured by HSI have revealed that the unprecedented move to enter a reservation against five shark species under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) earlier this year was premeditated and heavily influenced by the views of recreational and game fishers, and not by the available science nor adherence to precautionary principles.”
In January this year, the Australian Government lodged its first ever “reservation” under the CMS (or any other global conservation treaty) against five species of shark – three thresher sharks (bigeye, common and pelagic) and two hammerhead sharks (scalloped and great). Reservations act as exemptions from the treaty for the country that lodges them against specified species. All of these species were listed (by global consensus) at the CMS Conference of Parties in Ecuador, November 2014 on Appendix II of the Treaty. Sharks listed under the CMS are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). This would appropriately make it an offence for recreational or game fishers to catch these species.
Mr Kennedy said, “Australia raised objections to the listing of these 5 sharks during the CMS meeting essentially on behalf of recreational fishers, but found no support at all from the Convention’s 120 Party States. Regardless, FOI documents clearly reveal that Australia was already considering ways (after being heavily lobbied by rec fishers) to find an early exemption from, or consequently enter a reservation against, these listings prior to the meeting. The Commonwealth never intended to accept the full effect of those listings as binding obligations, a position endorsed by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Attorney-General George Brandis and Parliamentary Secretary Senator Colbeck.”
FOI documents show that the Departmental brief to Environment Minister Hunt and the ‘Delegation Instructions’ made reference to only one stakeholder view, those of the recreational fishers: “Recreational Fishers consider sharks to be of the premier game fishing species and note that they are seasonably abundant in many coastal locations”, and “Recreational fishing stakeholders also question the evidence of decline of the species in Australian waters, and do not believe the species is migratory”. Fishers offered no scientific evidence to support their claims and in one email, acknowledged their lack of scientific expertise.
The Australian brief continued, “……..given the disproportionate ramifications for recreational fishers a CMS listing would create, the delegation should seriously question the intention for a global listing for the three species…..”
Mr Kennedy continued, “The brief is also contradictory, ironically making the case for the listing of both hammerhead sharks, noting the fishers support for listing the great hammerhead shark; that the current domestic assessment of the scalloped hammerhead for listing under the EPBC was showing significant declines in the overall population; that genetics work supported the migratory status of the shark; that NSW currently protected both sharks; and that they clearly meet the criteria for listing under CMS. But amazingly, they concluded that the listings should be opposed.”