Gummy Shark


Latin name: Mustelus antarcticus


Common names: flake, shark

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Wild Caught

Region:
WA, Commonwealth waters

Key Facts

  • Gummy sharks are endemic to Australian waters. The majority are caught in fisheries managed by the Commonwealth and WA governments.
  • Gummy shark is commonly sold as ‘flake’, which is a marketing term that also includes rig, a species of shark imported from NZ.
  • Gummy sharks are a small species of shark that can be fished at sustainable levels if managed well.
  • There are no indications that gummy sharks are overfished in Commonwealth or WA waters.
  • Previous issues with the capture of endangered Australian sea lions in Commonwealth waters have largely been resolved, with areas closed to gillnet fishing around sea lion colonies, and measures in place to close larger areas to fishing in the event of sea lion deaths further out to sea.
  • Gillnet boats fishing in Australian sea lion habitat in South Australia are 100% monitored by video cameras on boats, which provides confidence in understanding the costs of fishing to this species. The absence of this monitoring in the WA fishery is a serious concern.
  • Endangered school sharks are still caught in the Commonwealth fishery, and can be sold on. A rebuilding plan is in place for school sharks but only requires the recovery of the species within a 66 year time frame, which is inadequate protection.
  • In WA, areas of the sea around Australian sea lion colonies should be protected in June 2018. It is unclear whether these area closures will be large enough to protect the species.
  • There is no independent monitoring of the WA gillnet fishery, which means it is not possible to have confidence in the number of Australian sea lions reported killed in the fishery. The impact of fishing is, given past evidence from similar fisheries, highly likely to be significantly more than is reported.

More information

  • Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Gillnet and Shark Hook Sector) (1,669t in 2016-17)
  • WA Joint Authority Southern Demersal Gillnet and Demersal longline Managed Fishery (Zone 1 & 2) (402t in 2015)

Gummy sharks are endemic to Australia, found throughout southern waters and caught in fisheries in WA, VIC, TAS, NSW and in Commonwealth waters. The majority of fisheries are small scale, and only the Commonwealth and WA fisheries are included in this assessment. Gummy shark is commonly labelled ‘flake’ at point of sale. The term ‘flake’ can refer to both gummy shark and rig, a species of shark imported from NZ.

Gummy sharks are a smaller species of shark that, unlike other larger species of shark, reproduces relatively quickly and produces a number of pups. These factors mean that fishing for this species can be managed at sustainable levels if managed well.

The stock status of gummy shark across southern Australia is well understood in Commonwealth waters, and there are no indications that the stock of gummy shark fished in Commonwealth or WA waters is overfished.

Both the Commonwealth and WA fisheries catch endangered Australian sea lions, which are also endemic to southern Australian waters. In the Commonwealth-managed fishery, the areas around sea lion colonies are closed to gillnet fishing, and limits are in place for the number of sea lions that can be killed in the fishery before further large areas of sea lion foraging habitat are also closed. This strategy to reduce the impact of fishing on Australian sea lions is backed up by video monitoring. All boats fishing with gillnets near Australian sea lion colonies are fitted with cameras that record what is caught, which means log-book reports of Australian sea lion deaths are verified by an independent method. Dolphin bycatch is also an issue in this fishery, and measures are in place to reduce dolphin deaths, although it is not clear whether these methods are adequate to ensure no impacts on the population of affected dolphins.

The major issue in the Commonwealth-managed fishery is the capture of endangered school shark. School sharks were previously a desired species in the fishery, and the stock has been rated as overfished by fishery managers since the 1990’s. The most recent information suggests that only 12% of the original number of school sharks remains. School sharks are caught alongside gummy sharks, and as it is not possible to fish for gummy shark without catching endangered school sharks, school sharks can still be caught and sold on.

There is a plan in place to rebuild the species to healthy levels, which has set an exceptionally long timeframe of 66 years. Previous rebuilding plans specified that school sharks should have rebuilt within 32 years, but this target was weakened in subsequent decisions.

Colonies of Australian sea lions affected by the WA gillnet fishery are currently not protected. In June 2018, the areas around sea lion colonies will be closed to gillnet fishing, which should protect colonies to some extent. However, there will be no video monitoring of any of the WA fishing vessels, which means it is not possible to have confidence in the number of Australian sea lions reported killed in the fishery, and the impact of fishing is highly likely to be significantly more than is reported.

It is also highly likely that, given the similar fishing methods used in the WA and Commonwealth fisheries, dolphin bycatch is an issue in WA, but has so far not been quantified.

The WA fishery targets a number of different shark species (including gummy, whiskery, sandbar shark and dusky whaler). There are concerns over the stock status of sandbar sharks and dusky whalers in WA waters, and there is a significant catch of hammerhead sharks, which are internationally recognised as endangered.