Research informs wild harvests for aquarium displays


Kate Buckley conducts Largetooth Sawfish research in the Adelaide River

Kate Buckley conducts Largetooth Sawfish research in the Adelaide River

Two threatened marine species urgently need sustainability assessments before future wild harvests are conducted for public aquarium displays, a Charles Darwin University researcher warns.

PhD candidate Kate Buckley has devised a new three-step approach to inform relevant authorities of the need for sustainability assessments before permitting the removal of threatened, or data-deficient and potentially threatened, shark and ray species (elasmobranchs) from the wild.

She said the Critically Endangered Largetooth Sawfish and the Vulnerable Grey Nurse Shark were high priorities as they were at risk of extinction, did not currently breed in captivity, and future wild harvests were proposed.

“In the modern context of zoos and aquariums as conservation hubs it is crucial that displays are ecologically sustainable,” Kate said.

“Our findings suggest authorities should formalise the justification process, with assessments of at-risk species that have unsustainable captive populations.”

Kate said that before permitting wild harvests, consideration should be given to the conservation benefits of displays and potential ecological impacts of harvests.

“To date there have been no comprehensive sustainability assessments in this context; the need is strongly reflected in Australian state and territory fisheries permit requirements,” she said.

A former aquarium supervisor, Kate said sustainability assessments of shark and ray species would empower governments, the zoo and aquarium communities and scientists to collaborate on threatened species management.

She said the first chapter of her thesis, titled “Sustainability of threatened species displayed in public aquaria, with a case study of Australian sharks and rays”, also highlighted the need for comprehensive zoo and aquarium record management systems.

“This is a vital step forward. Improved record-keeping and access to records will facilitate the identification of other species that require comprehensive sustainability assessments,” Kate said. 

“A precautionary approach to wild harvests is needed in the meantime.”

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