In Australia, sharks are taken by commercial, Indigenous and recreational fishers. Sharks generally have a low reproduction rate, mature late and often have small populations. This can make them susceptible to overfishing and slow to recover if overfished. In Commonwealth managed fisheries, where certain shark species may be taken commercially, catch limits are set to ensure populations are maintained at sustainable levels. Australia continues to review its management arrangements to ensure sharks are managed using the latest scientific and biological information.
Several shark species are protected in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and cannot be targeted by fishers. The department works with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to minimise the interaction of fishing activity with protected shark species in Commonwealth waters.
A 2014 assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on the world's sharks and rays determined that Australia was a leader in the management and conservation of sharks and rays. The assessment noted that Australia has put in place science-based management recovery plans for threatened species (white shark, grey nurse shark, whale shark, gulper sharks, school shark, sawfish and river sharks).
Australia's first National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012 (Shark-plan 1)
Australia developed its first National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (Shark-plan 1) in 2004. Shark-plan 1 detailed actions to encourage the effective and sustainable management of Australia’s shark populations. It provided guidance to fisheries and conservation managers and the public to improve conservation and management of sharks. The plan met Australia’s commitment as a member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), to the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks). The IPOA-Sharks is a voluntary international instrument that guides nations in taking positive action on the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use. For more information about the IPOA Sharks visit the UN FAO.
Australia's second National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012 (Shark-plan 2)
In July 2012, following a review of Shark-plan 1, Australia’s second National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012 (Shark-plan 2) was released.
Shark-plan 2 articulates how Australia manages sharks and ensures that Australia meets international conservation and management obligations. The plan identifies research and management actions across Australia for the long-term sustainability of sharks, including actions to help minimise the impacts of fishing on sharks.
Shark-plan 2 provides a framework for the conservation of Australia’s shark populations and for guiding the industries and communities that impact upon them.
Shark-plan 2 was developed with state, Northern Territory and Australian Government agencies, and has been endorsed by the Shark-plan Representative Group (SRG) (refer below) and the Australian Fisheries Management Forum.
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An operational strategy for Shark-plan 2 was also developed by Shark-plan stakeholders. It identifies actions for state, Northern Territory and Australian Government jurisdictions to pursue in advancing Shark-plan 2’s objectives.
For further information on Shark-plan, please refer to the Shark-plan frequently asked questions (FAQ) below.
Shark-plan Representative Group
In 2013, the Shark-plan Representative Group (SRG) was established to oversee and report on the implementation of the operational strategy for Shark-plan 2. The SRG meets annually and includes representatives from the state and Northern Territory fisheries agencies, AFMA, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (including ABARES), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC), the commercial and recreational fishing sectors and environmental non-government organisations. The SRG replaced the Shark Implementation and Review Committee previously established under Shark-plan 1. Relevant documents from the SRG meetings are available below.
Review of Australia’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2012—Shark-plan 2
The department has published the review of Shark-plan 2 and its operational strategy to assess performance and inform future directions. This review assessed the effectiveness of Shark-plan 2 through use of a targeted questionnaire, annual jurisdiction reports and government publications.
Overall findings from this review indicated that, although the actions outlined in Shark-plan 2 (if fully implemented) have addressed Australia’s commitment to implement the IPOA–Sharks, jurisdictional shark conservation measures for sharks are independent of Shark-plan 2 and are driven by legislation requirements and treaty obligations. Shark conservation and management actions undertaken by jurisdictions were mostly initiated by factors external to Shark-plan 2. For instance, existing Australian Government legislation such as the EPBC Act and the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy, Australian obligations to international conventions including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), and state and Northern Territory fisheries legislation were found to be the primary drivers of shark management initiatives.
In 2017, SRG endorsed the outcomes of the review and reaffirmed the importance of Shark-plan as an effective reporting and networking tool for fisheries managers and other stakeholders on shark management in Australia. SRG agreed to retain Shark-plan in its current form while streamlining reporting to better focus on outcomes.
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All jurisdictions provide an annual update on progress towards achieving the actions of the Shark-plan 2 Operational Strategy that they have agreed to. Many agreed actions are ongoing, such as undertaking new research to progress our understanding of sharks and their management.
A brief summary of each meeting of the Shark-plan 2 Representative Group is available below.
Shark assessment report 2018
ABARES published the Shark Assessment Report 2018 (SAR 2018) on 16 November 2018. The report provides a synthesis of management arrangements, catch and sustainability of sharks across Australia. This report is a commitment under the UN FAO IPOA Sharks and Australia's National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.
The Report found that the standard of Australian fisheries management processes is widely acknowledged to be high, and Australia can demonstrate progress against the goals outlined by the FAO.
Shark-plan frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What are the achievements of Shark-plan since its implementation in 2012?
The reviews of Shark-plan 1 (2010) and Shark-plan 2 (2018) found that the plan has contributed to improved conservation and management outcomes for shark species occurring in Australian waters. This has seen Australia’s shark catch decline over the last decade. Since the implementation of Shark-plan 2 in 2012, a number of shark management and conservation improvements have been undertaken as reported in the Shark Assessment Reports (SAR) 2009 and 2018:
- Australia has introduced a broad spectrum of legislative and regulatory protections for shark stocks.
- Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports are prepared biannually and contain information on sharks.
- The Shark Report Card has been produced that specifically reports the status of all species of sharks and shark-like rays stocks in Australia.
- There has been improved identification of species caught (including the development of identification guides for fishers).
- Catch and effort data collection has been enhanced (including through improved logbooks and observer programs).
- All Australian jurisdictions now use consultative forums in the development of fisheries management advice.
The reviews noted that the existing Australian Government legislation such as the EPBC Act and government policies such as the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy and the Commonwealth’s Policy on Fisheries Bycatch; Australian obligations to international conventions and state and the Northern Territory fisheries legislation were found to be the primary drivers of shark management initiatives. Shark-plan, its associated reporting and the undertaking of a regular Shark Assessment Report remain important elements for centralised monitoring of shark conservation and management in Australia.
What are the key benefits of Shark-plan 2’s jurisdiction reports to the management and conservation of sharks in Australia?
A finding of the Shark-plan 2 review was that the consolidation of information from across jurisdictions on shark conservation measures allows managers to examine holistic approaches to shark management, rather than simply considering those within the context of a particular fishery or issue.
The plan also provides a vehicle for communication among the Australian Government, states and the Northern Territory, industry, scientists, science managers and environmental non-government organisations on shark conservation and management.
What are the areas for improvements identified in SAR 2018 and the Shark-plan Review 2018 for Shark-plan 2?
Monitoring and data collection; research prioritisation; the undertaking of mutually beneficial research; and better coordination of the management of shared stocks.
What are the key highlights of the 2019 Shark-plan 2 jurisdiction reports?
Key highlights reported by jurisdictions in 2019 were:
- The Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Northern Prawn Fishery are supporting research to better understand prawn trawl gear interactions with sawfish and how interactions may be reduced.
- New South Wales has undertaken genetic analysis to assist identification of the species of hammerhead sharks caught in the New South Wales Shark Meshing Program.
- The Northern Territory has introduced new management arrangements in its Offshore Net and Line Fishery that include a requirement that all shark fins remain naturally attached.
- Victoria has been involved in a project on ‘Improving Outcomes of Fisher Interactions with Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras’, with VRFish, Flinders University and Monash University.
- Queensland is developing a profile for non-retained shark catch to improve the understanding of the economic, legislative and behavioural drivers influencing a fisher’s decision to retain or discard sharks.
- Tasmania completed an assessment of the post-release survival rates of mako sharks of standard game fishing techniques based on stress levels, gear type and fishing behaviour.
- Western Australia is undertaking a research project in collaboration with the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council to address key issues and questions relating to Western Australia's Temperate Shark Fisheries potentially transitioning from demersal gillnet to demersal longline. This includes a better understanding of variations to fishing efficiency and impacts on habitat and Threatened Endangered and Protected species, to ensure any change can be effectively and sustainably managed.
- South Australia completed a project on the movement, residency and habitat use of pelagic sharks in Spencer Gulf: resolving overlaps with marine industries and community activities.
- The Fisheries Research Development Corporation released ‘Shark Futures: A Report Card for Australia’s Shark and Rays’ was released in March 2019.
- A project funded through the National Environmental Science Program was undertaken to review the state of knowledge of Australian sharks and to identify species that required additional management measures.
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority continues to work with Queensland Government fisheries managers and encourage the identification and management of more vulnerable shark species outside of the current multispecies shark total allowable commercial catch.
- Australia advocated for stronger action on deepwater sharks in the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) due to concerning levels of directed and incidental shark catch. In June 2019, SIOFA banned targeted shark fishing.
- A number of jurisdictions are contributing to a project on improving data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait marine resource use to inform better decision making.
When is the next SRG meeting?
The SRG last met in October 2019 in Canberra.
The next meeting of members will be held in late-2020.