Penguins are Drowning in Tasmania

Should recreational gillnet fishing be banned altogether?

They are perhaps the cutest of all penguin species as well as the smallest and as far as Tasmania is concerned they are also the most popular. We know them as The Fairy Penguin, a species made famous by the 2015 film 'Oddball'.

The small penguin congregation on Tasmania's coast is not only adorable but an excellent example of  Australia’s diverse wildlife.

However, the tiny penguins are dying at an alarming rate due to the use of recreational gillnets. The Tasmanian government has banned the use of these nets in some regions, but the small penguin species is still being caught and drowned in the gillnets in areas where it’s allowed.

Image: Taronga Zoo

Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania explained to the ABC that the tiny bird dies in larger nets that are strung across the water.

"Most penguins are shallow-diving birds," Dr Woehler said. "They can only hold their breath for one or two minutes, maybe three minutes for some of the bigger birds.

"And we're finding that these birds are drowning in 30 seconds or 40 seconds. Something like a little penguin here in Tasmania, they can only dive down to 30 metres or so."

A recent study found that 14 of the 18 species are caught in fishing nets and are drowning.
"The results were a surprise to all of us. When we put all the information together, the [findings] shows that we need to change the way fisheries operate," Dr Woehler said.

"We can't operate fishing gear close to penguin colonies. Here in Tasmania, only a very small number of penguin colonies are protected from gillnets.

"The rest of the 99 per cent of the penguin population in Tasmania is unprotected from any interaction with fisheries."

The practise of gillnet fishing has been banned in some by the Tasmanian government for being a wasteful practise, but due to the number of fairy penguins drowning in Tasmania, Dr Woehler is calling for the ban to be state wide.

“It's a very wasteful practice, and certainly in terms of the threat to penguins, shearwaters, cormorants — any bird that dies is potentially at risk from gillnets."

Lead image: Taronga Zoo

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