Spear fishing Proposed spearfishing ban in the Great Barrier Reef area criticised by fellow Australian scientists A study proposing a ban on spear guns and gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef is now being criticised by Australian scientists saying its results – which were obtained from Kenya and Papua New Guinea – aren’t relevant to the Great Barrier Reef.

The study, carried out by an international team of scientists led by Dr Josh Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, proposed a ban on fishing gear such as spear guns, fish traps, beach seine nets, and gill nets to aid damaged reefs in their recovery. According to data obtained from the waters of Kenya and Papua New Guinea, certain types of fishing gear are more damaging to corals and to certain species of fish needed to help reefs recover from bleaching or storm damage.

“They [corals and certain types of reef fish] are already on the edge because of the overfishing and the additional impact caused by a bleaching even can push them over,” said Dr Cinner, who is based at James Cook University.

According to Dr Josh, spear guns are the most damaging of all fishing gear, particularly to fish that help maintaining the reef by removing seaweeds and sea urchins.

“Spear guns target a high proportion of species that help maintain the resilience of coral reefs, but also can result in a surprising amount of damage to the corals themselves,” Dr Cinner said. “When a fish is shot with a spear gun, it often hides in the reef, so some fishermen break the corals in their attempts to get it.”

Not applicable to the Great Barrier Reef, says other scientists Fellow JCU fisheries scientist Dr Andrew Tobin do not agree with the fishing gear ban recommendation, saying that the results from the study aren’t applicable to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“Some of those findings are probably very reasonable for those areas they’ve studied, but to make any link to Great Barrier Reef waters is probably drawing a very long sword,” Dr Tobin said.

According to Townsville marine biologist Dr Walter Starck, who provides advice to Sunfish North  Queensland, herbivore fish aren’t being overfished in the Great Barrier Reef area.

“Here in Australia, it is completely irrelevant,” he said.