Published 1 November 2009

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Sharks at risk from deepwater gillnets

Cambridge, UK, 1st November 2009—TRAFFIC has written to the fledgling South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) to express alarm that Flag States are allowing deepwater gillnetting, a potentially devastating fishing practice, of species such as deep water sharks

Deepwater gillnetting could seriously affect species like the Spiny Dogfish, a species already threatened from overfishing

This is despite an agreement to restrict current fishing using this technique to earlier lower levels because of questions over its levels of impact on suceptible species. 

Delegates from 20 nations will meet next week in Auckland, New Zealand, to continue plans to establish a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, a legally-binding body, that would have control over the high seas areas of the South Pacific Ocean from the most eastern part of the South Indian Ocean through the Pacific towards the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of South America. 

Before the fledgling committee is a claim by Spain that two of its vessels, which have been setting deepwater gillnets up to 2 km underwater in seas off Lord Howe Island and elsewhere, that the practice does not present any serious impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems. 

"Nothing could be further from the truth," said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC's marine programme co-ordinator. 

"The available scientific evidence points towards deepwater gillnets being extremely damaging to certain species."

In 2006 the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) banned the use of gillnets in waters deeper than 200 metres, noting: "The unregulated use of gillnets in deep water is potentially damaging to deep-water stocks due to excessive soak times and consequent high discard levels, and due to the long-term impact of lost or abandoned gears."

"The SPRFMO should follow the NEAFC's lead and ban the use of deep water set gillnets unless they can demonstrate sustainability around their use and prevent the loss of gear and resultant ghost fishing," said Sant. 

Ghost fishing is when lost or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish, further depleting stocks, which are never landed. 

Sant points out that such nets are non-specific and impact heavily on species such as deep water dogfish and other shark species. Furthermnore, the areas targetted are vital corridors for migrant species such as school shark as they pass through ocean "bottlenecks" around the offshore Australian territories of Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. 

TRAFFIC has been concerned by the levels of shark products being landed from such vessels in Africa with no review of their sustainability and a total lack of management. 

"TRAFFIC is hoping to conduct a review of such unmanaged fisheries to get to the bottom of this fishing and its levels of impact on susceptible fished species," added Sant.

The letter expressing concern over the practice of deepwater gillnetting.