A new WWF-Australia film shows how keeping alive the lost art of net making is good for the environment and business – and might even influence which prawns you buy for Easter.
Neville Palmer, the star of the film, makes nets for some of the 30 Cairns-based vessels which trawl the Northern Prawn Fishery.
More than 20 other trawlers, based in Darwin and Karumba, also operate in the fishery which covers an area of nearly 1 million square kilometres stretching from Cape York to the Kimberley.
Neville is one of the few people left in the industry who can make a net from scratch and he fits the bycatch reduction devices that are transforming commercial fishing.
One type allows large animals like turtles, sharks, dolphins, stingrays and tuna to escape the nets; a different type lets smaller fish swim free. Trawlers are fitted with both.
“You no longer lose two to three tonnes of product because of damage caused by turtles and big sharks stuck in the nets so it has increased profitability,” said Neville.
“It’s also made fishing safer. It’s incredibly dangerous wrestling a three metre shark or a large stingray off the deck,” he said.
Neville knows the hazards more than most. When a stingray barb pierced his skin the wound turned gangrenous and half his shoulder had to be removed. Stingray barb injuries are now greatly reduced.
The use of these devices, coupled with the support of WWF-Australia, helped the Northern Prawn Fishery gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2012 - the first tropical prawn fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable.
A 2013 Commonwealth assessment of the fishery reported that turtle excluder devices and bycatch reduction devices have resulted in a 97% reduction in turtle bycatch, 86% reduction in large shark capture, and a 94% reduction in stingray capture.
But the Northern Prawn Fishery isn’t resting on its laurels and wants to further reduce bycatch.
Key to these efforts will be Neville Palmer. The people who trawl this fishery continually come up with ideas on how the bycatch reduction devices can be improved.
It is Neville and his net making skills that will help make these tweaks a reality. Successes are shared with everyone.
WWF-Australia fisheries spokesperson Jo-Anne McCrea said the new film highlights the creativity, innovation and passion behind sustainable fishing.
“If you want to support these efforts then look and ask for the MSC certification symbol as you shop for prawns for your Good Friday family lunch or whenever you’re buying seafood,” she said.
Mark Symons, WWF-Australia Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571