Scalloped Hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini caught in gill net © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

Scalloped Hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini caught in gill net © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF


Published 26 May 2016

Indian Ocean sharks at risk from deepwater gillnets

Update: 27th May—Australia has submitted a proposal to ban deepwater gillnets in the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement Area. TRAFFIC urges the other seven Parties to support this proposal.

Wollongong, Australia, 26th May 2016—TRAFFIC is urging governments whose fisheries operate in the Southern Indian Ocean to consider a total ban on the use of deepwater set gillnets at their forthcoming meeting this July. 

The use of deepwater gillnets is a potentially devastating fishing practice that impacts heavily on species such as deep water dogfish and other shark species. 

Currently a temporary ban is in place in the high seas regulated through the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement, but it runs out in July when delegates from the Contracting Parties—Australia, Cook Islands, European Union, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius and the Seychelles meet in La Reunion to review the Agreement. 

Deepwater gillnets are deeply damaging to the marine environment and TRAFFIC urges the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) Contracting Parties to make the ban on their use permanent and binding

Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s Fisheries Programme Leader.The huge nets—which can be several hundred kilometres in length and set more than a kilometre below the surface—catch everything in their path. Particularly problematic is when the nets are lost or abandoned and carry on “ghost fishing” for years. One gillnet confiscated by the authorities in Australia in 2009 contained 29 tonnes of Antarctic Toothfish, plus a significant bycatch of skates.

Approximate extent of the area regulated through the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement © TRAFFIC

In 2009, the then newly formed South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) moved to ban the use of deepwater gillnets in the sea area they manage. TRAFFIC had earlier called for such as ban to be put in place. Deepwater gillnets and/or large pelagic driftnets have already been banned by a number of other international fisheries management bodies including the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). 

“SIOFA Contracting Parties should join the throng of international fisheries management bodies who have already banned the use of these highly destructive fishing practices: they also need to prevent the use of deepwater gillnets by vessels flying their flag, no matter where they are fishing—it makes little sense to ban the nets in one part of the high seas but allow them elsewhere,” said Sant. 

Earlier this year, Contracting Parties at the SIOFA Scientific Committee were undecided on whether to put a ban in place at the July meeting. 

“Contracting Parties to SIOFA need take responsibility and enact a ban to demonstrate responsible fisheries management—the world is watching and waiting with baited breath,” said Sant.