Dolphins Used as Bait

Matthew Franklin of The Courier-Mail
June 07, 2006

ILLEGAL fishermen are slaughtering dolphins and dugongs to use as shark bait in Queensland waters, according to a Labor Party taskforce on illegal fishing.

The taskforce's report, to be released today, also alleges an illegal vessel being used to catch sharks was moored off Raine Island, 100km east of Cape Grenville, for more than three weeks recently but was not apprehended despite locals tipping off authorities.

Labor established its inquiry this year after the release of figures showing a sharp upsurge in sightings of illegal fishing vessels, particularly from Indonesia.

The six-member taskforce held meetings in Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Broome, the Northern Territory, Canberra, Tasmania and Melbourne and took evidence from more than 50 witnesses.

It is expected to recommend an increase in patrols of northern waters and a range of other policy responses, although Labor has a long-standing policy of creating a coast guard which would patrol fishing grounds.

According to the taskforce's report, part of which was obtained by The Courier-Mail yesterday, witnesses told the MPs that illegal fishing was devastating the marine environment, with poachers taking up to 25,000 tonnes of shark each year for their fins and fouling waters with bilge water, oil and other contaminants.

"The taskforce was also told that illegal fishers are slaughtering dolphins and dugongs to use as bait to attract sharks," the report stated.

"Considering the huge number of illegal fishers entering our waters, this means that each year possibly thousands of dolphins in northern waters are being slaughtered for shark bait. Large numbers of dolphins and turtles are also being killed each year."

According to the report, Queensland fishermen begrudgingly accepted the closure of large sections of the Great Barrier Reef to protect the habitat but were angry that inadequate patrols meant illegal fishing vessels were plundering the protected areas.

"The taskforce was told of a recent incident on Raine Island (a protected area where turtles breed) where an illegal vessel had moored for three weeks to catch sharks and was not apprehended, even after numerous calls to the authorities.

"The commercial fishers in Cairns and surrounding areas are fined heavily for going into the protected areas but the illegal boats appear to be operating in the area unchecked."

The taskforce also heard that reef fish were being taken in increasing numbers and that trochus shell also was being targeted.

"The shift away from shark fin to reef fish is confirmed by the increase in the numbers of Chinese and Thai trawlers engaging in illegal fishing in Australian waters," the report says.

"The taskforce was advised that recently there has been a shift to larger, more sophisticated boats."