‘Globally significant moment for ocean conservation’: Australia to phase out gill net fishing in Great Barrier Reef

“The removal of gillnets in net-free zones on the reef has already helped boost local fish populations. We want to see this happen right across the reef.”


The Australian and Queensland governments have introduced a more than $160 million package to phase out the commercial gill net fishing that damages the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, as well as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Area. It comprises more than 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs, and is home to 400 types of coral, 4,000 species of mollusc and 1,500 types of fish, according to UNESCO.

“This announcement is shaping up as a globally significant moment for ocean conservation, fisheries management and the Great Barrier Reef — one of the natural wonders of the world,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, in a press release from WWF Australia. “If all goes to plan, by June 2027 we’ll have a Net-Free Reef where dugongsturtlesdolphins and other threatened species can swim without the threat of becoming entangled and drowning in a gill net, and that’s a cause for global celebration.”

The government package will provide the funds for a gill net licenses buyout and mandate independent data validation for commercial fishing boats.

“The commitment to mandate the use of independent data validation on commercial fishing vessels is also welcome and long overdue. It means we’ll have a much better understanding of what’s happening out on the water, including how many threatened species are being accidentally caught,” said Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s Head of Oceans, in the press release.

As part of the package, hammerhead sharks will also be proclaimed a commercial fishery “no-take” species.

“The ongoing capture of endangered hammerheads for meat and fins has long been out of step with protecting and recovering threatened species in the reef,” said Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, as The Guardian reported.

Most of the gill nets will be gone by the end of 2023, with a complete ban by the middle of 2027.

“We know one of the most immediate threats to [the] health of [the] reef is unsustainable fishing practices. It causes damage throughout the reef,” said Tanya Plibersek, Australian Minister for the Environment and Water, as reported by The Guardian. “The removal of gillnets in net-free zones on the reef has already helped boost local fish populations. We want to see this happen right across the reef.”

Purchasing and shelving commercial licenses to fish in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef has protected an area bigger than Tasmania, an area named the Net-Free North by WWF, the press release said.

“WWF effectively created a 100,000 square kilometre safe haven for marine wildlife in the northern Great Barrier Reef by buying the last remaining commercial gill net licence in 2022. So we’re also celebrating the commitment to enshrine protection of this area,” O’Gorman said in the press release. “This will provide the permanent protection from gill nets that our marine species need.”

Leck has also called for a gill net ban in all Queensland dugong protection areas.

UNESCO recommended a declaration of World Heritage in danger for the Great Barrier Reef in 2021, but Australia successfully lobbied against it.


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