The man responsible for up to 80% of the gill-net take north of Cooktown recently handed his net to WWF-Australia who will ensure it never enters the water again.
Gill nets can easily drown dugongs, snubfin dolphins, marine turtles, sawfish, hammerhead sharks and the critically endangered Bizant River shark.
WWF-Australia bought Billy Dunn’s fishing licence in April to retire it as the first step toward creating a massive haven for dugongs and other threatened marine creatures.
The chance to help save endangered marine life resonated with concerned citizens who donated the six figure sum required in just over a week.
Taking possession of the net, Jim Higgs, WWF-Australia’s fisheries expert, called on the Queensland government to establish a Net Free North by banning gill nets from just north of Cooktown through to the Torres Strait.
“This would create an 85,000-square kilometre safe haven, free from the danger of these nets. That’s an area bigger than Tasmania.
“WWF and our generous supporters have done the hard yards by buying Billy’s licence. It’s time for the Queensland government to do the right thing,” Mr Higgs said.
In a boost for the environment, Mr Dunn, who fished Princess Charlotte Bay for 40 years, now wants to use his local knowledge of reefs and beaches to start an eco-tourism venture with the nearby Wujal Wujal Aboriginal community.
“Wujal Wujal – so nice you say it twice. We’d really like to do a joint venture with them to do tourism in an ecologically sustainable way,” Mr Dunn said.
He said conservation concerns were part of the motivation to sell his licence to WWF and he fully supports the push for a Net Free North.
“I think it’s a good idea. I hope it works. I think basically the fishing industry is coming of age and people are taking a more mature outlook and hopefully with government assistance it can all be sorted out,” Mr Dunn said.
Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer WWF Australia.