Project Banjo is delighted to announce a huge step forward in protective measures for rays, skates and guitarfish in Victoria, Australia. In response to the #RaysAwareness campaign launched in March 2017 (including a petition signed by 33,000 people globally), the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) is now introducing some of the most significant changes to ray protection in Australian history.
These changes are set to lead the way both nationally and internationally in recognizing the need for better treatment of these marine animals that play a vital role in the heath of marine ecosystems. (photo – Gary Bell)
Following a comprehensive 8 week, community consultation, canvassing views from within the recreational fishing and the broader community, VFA have endorsed the following changes, coming into effect on 7 November:
* prohibit the take of rays greater than 1.5 metres in width by prohibiting their take or possession;
* reduce the bag limit for all skates, guitar fish and all other rays from 5 to 1 per angler per day;
* requirement to land permitted catch whole to ensure size limit compliance; and
* prohibit the take of rays, skates and guitar fish from or within 400 metres of any man made structure
Project Banjo Coordinator PT Hirschfield says:
‘We strongly believe that VFA’s commitment to stringent enforcement of new and existing regulations along with the broader education packages they are developing will result in major improvements to outcomes for rays. This is a massive win in direct response to the senseless slaughter of rays, in particular smooth rays and fiddler rays (aka ‘banjo sharks’) that our 800 member action group has been documenting across the years. VFA have been absolutely outstanding and proactive in evaluating the evidence and meeting with us in person from the outset of our campaign in April 2017. They have acknowledged the treatment of rays, skates and guitarfish as an issue of major community concern and have developed a comprehensive solutions package as a departmental priority in consultation with the recreational fishing community.’
‘Information about best practice in the treatment of rays is set to be included in the Victorian Recreational Fishing Guide. Signage reinforcing pre-existing regulations has already been installed onto piers and jetties around Port Phillip Bay promoting the safe handling and return of unwanted rays unharmed into the water, and the same is set to be provided for display on bait freezers across Port Phillip Bay.’
‘Additionally, our campaign has had excellent support from organisations such as Fishcare Victoria (who have since received funding to produce ray-focussed education materials), Futurefish Foundation, the mayor of Mornington Peninsula Shire, local fishing charter companies, high profile fishing, surfing, scuba and media personalities, marine biologists and many individual members of the recreational fishing community.’
Rays slaughtered needlessly!
Rays are generally not considered to be desirable catch, and the Project Banjo action group has collated significant photographic and video evidence of unwanted rays that have been systematically slaughtered or mutilated and returned live into the water. Hirschfield says:
‘Too often, the smaller rays are considered ‘pests’ that compete for fish or who repeatedly take bait. Some anglers have killed them to avoid the inconvenience of catching the same ray twice. Many have been mutilated to retrieve inexpensive fishing hooks. Others have been dealt knife wounds and deep cranial splits and had flaps removed or been cut in half while still alive before being discarded into the water which is blatant animal cruelty. (photo – 5 slaughtered Banjo Sharks – Hirschfield)
Where large, docile smooth rays are concerned, there is a residual misrepresentation of stingrays as malicious man-killers following the tragic death of Steve Irwin in 2006 – the third ray related death in Australian history. In reality, rays do not attack humans but have been known to act in self-defence when they feel themselves to be in any way threatened. Statistics demonstrate that such incidents are exceptionally rare. Typically, these rays are much loved by locals and tourists alike in the waterways and around the man-made structures they frequent.’
Global outrage and media attention ensued following the release of images of an enormous smooth ray – animals that grow up to 350 kgs – that had been slaughtered, dismembered and returned to the water on 2 April 2017 beneath Rye Pier on the Mornington Peninsula which is regularly frequented by divers and tourists to whom these animals are considered iconic. According to Project Banjo Committee Member, Marine Scientist Jacqui Younger:
‘Most Aussie anglers wouldn’t dream of killing a 300+kg stingray, and the previous bag limit of 5 per day certainly did not align well with common sense or community standards and expectations. The new regulation banning the taking of any rays, skates and guitarfish from or within 400 metres of any man made structure provides a protective exclusion zone where it’s arguably most needed. We applaud Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford, the Directors and staff of VFA for the leadership shown in addressing this important issue.’ (photo -Hirschfield)
In addition to educating anglers about best practice in regards to rays, Project Banjo believes the initiatives proposed and adopted by VFA and other fish-focussed organisations will help to improve stakeholder understanding of the value of these animals alive within their natural environments. This understanding will benefit not only the animals themselves but all water users who wish to interact with healthier marine ecosystems where rays perform essential filtration services, particularly around man-made structures where rays have been especially vulnerable to mistreatment.
Fishing authorities in other Australian states and beyond are urged to be equally responsive to broad community concerns about the treatment of these marine animals. See the Project Banjo petition here and to email go here.
By PT Hirshfield, Blue Ocean Contributor
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