Protect Top End Coasts From Gillnets

I write to you with urgent concern for the protection of our Top End coasts and the myriad of marine life they support. Our rivers and coasts are not just landscapes; they are the lifeblood of our community and Territory lifestyle.

Right now, the commercial barramundi gillnet fishery poses a great threat to our Top End fishing lifestyle, tourism economy, and iconic threatened species. 

Destructive gillnets are a serious risk to threatened species such as dugongs, turtles, dolphins, and critically endangered sawfish. The indiscriminate nature of gillnet fishing has led to the unintended catch and subsequent death of these protected marine animals, increasing their risk of local extinction. 

The onset of the 2024 commercial barramundi season, marked by increased industry catch targets focused in fewer areas, significantly heightens the danger to threatened marine life. Three gillnet fishing areas were closed by concerned Traditional Owners last year. The government recently announced they’ll cap effort in three more areas (albeit with questionable effectiveness). This means the destructive gillnets could be pushed into the two areas identified as critical habitat for threatened species - Van Diemen Gulf and Southern Gulf of Carpentaria.

Furthermore, researchers and rangers recently discovered a breeding population of the critically endangered Speartooth Shark in the Roper River. The NT is a critical refuge for this species. Yet 1000m of gillnet can be used by commercial Barramundi fishers at the mouth of the Roper every single day for 8 months this year.

Barramundi is not just our iconic recreational catch but it’s at the heart of our fishing lifestyle and local economies. Tourists flock from all over to try and catch one of the Territory’s legendary barramundi and explore some of the most beautiful rivers and coasts in Australia. The Daly is highly popular for recreational and tourism fishing, and the Limmen Bight Marine Park (located at the mouth of the Roper) has great barra fishing and is also a hotspot for dugong and turtles. These Territory icons are in the firing line of the gillnet commercial fishery.

I call on you to take urgent action to protect our threatened species and iconic fishing areas like the Roper River and Limmen Bight Marine Park. Protecting these areas is not just about preserving threatened species; it's about securing a future for recreational fishing, local tourism and jobs.

Following Queensland's example, where gillnet-free zones have reduced the threat to endangered marine life, increased the size of barramundi and threadfin, and boosted local tourism, we urgently call on you to take action to protect critical habitats from gillnet fishing, transition to alternative fishing gear types, and phase out destructive commercial gillnetting. 

At the last election, the NT government committed to expanding coastal protection and implementing the Limmen Bight Marine Park Management plan to preserve our unique marine life and Top End lifestyle. We now call on you to uphold your election promises to keep our Top End coasts healthy. 

It's imperative that we safeguard the legacy of our coasts for future generations, maintaining the Northern Territory's reputation for healthy waters and abundant marine life.