As shark populations plummet worldwide with many species rapidly facing extinction within the next two decades, Australia, a country often known for its environmental rigor, has made a shocking move. The Queensland, Australia government is legalizing shark fishing in the Great Barrier Reef.
A historical first, the Queensland, Australia government is creating a dedicated shark fishery in a World Heritage Area. The measures, which protect only 4 shark species, will allow fishing of 24 endangered or threatened species in critically vital and currently protected shark habitats. Additionally, the proposal offers no firm catch limit to the number of sharks that can be fished, foreshadowing a long-term population collapse of many species of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef – as well as the collapse of the reef ecosystem itself.
This new legislation could not have come at a worse time for sharks. Desired for their fins, estimates indicate over 100,000,000 sharks are killed each year and more than 90% of many regional shark species are almost extinct. Sharks are highly vulnerable to over-fishing and take decades to repopulate, if at all. No worldwide protection for sharks exist and even the few marine reserves that serve as sanctuaries such as Cocos and the Galapagos Islands have fallen prey to illegal shark fisheries. Sharkfinning is big business, driven by greed and a sky-rocketing demand for shark fin soup in Asia.
The disappearance of sharks from our world’s largest and most critical ecosystem is a frightening thought. Research has repeatedly proven sharks, as an apex predator, play a vital role keeping our oceans healthy and in balance. When sharks are removed or diminished in number, severe problems cascade down the highly interconnected food chain. Other species are pressured and often eliminated - species that are either important foods for humans or upon which the health of the reefs themselves is dependent. Without sharks, the oceans - our very life support system – may be destroyed.
Sadly, the threats facing sharks, a mal-aligned and misunderstood species, are largely unknown or ignored. The public’s general apathy or even disdain for sharks frequently leads to their demise.
At a time when many of the environmental challenges we face seem insurmountable, a hope exists for sharks: an immediate moratorium on shark fishing worldwide. Instead, the Australian government has chosen to move decades backwards, legalizing shark fishing in a delicate, already threatened ecosystem and one of the world’s most important marine protected areas. In doing so, Australia stands to lose its precious shark population, jeopardize its lucrative tourism industry, and forever tarnish its reputation as an environmental leader.
International pressure is needed to stop these measures. Australia must be urged to ban all shark fishing immediately throughout the entire Great Barrier Reef area, vigorously enforcing these policies. Instead of contributing to the issue, Australia should be encouraged to set a world-wide example, leading the fight to protect sharks, our oceans and our planet.
We simply cannot afford to lose one of the world’s most treasured ecosystems and one of the key species that keeps it healthy.
Nor can we afford to ruthlessly and unnecessarily kill one more shark.
Shark Savers is currently collecting signatures on a petition protesting these measures – www.sharksavers.org.