Long line of duty for HMAS Huon

Published on LEUT Jessica O'Brien (author), ABCIS Philippa Smith (photographer)

A shark is about to be freed from an illegal longline by Royal Australian Navy personnel embarked on HMAS Huon on November 25th 2014. (photo: ABCIS Philippa Smith)
A shark is about to be freed from an illegal longline by Royal Australian Navy personnel embarked on HMAS Huon on November 25th 2014.

Navy personnel have come to the rescue of sharks trapped in abandoned longlines recently, whilst on patrol east of Ashmore Island.
 
HMAS Huon, a Coastal Mine Hunter, discovered five abandoned longlines approximately two to three nautical miles inside the Australian Fishing Zone. The longlines retrieved were believed to be from foreign fishing boats suspected of fishing north of Australian waters and had drifted into the Australian Fishing Zone. Each line was approximately 400 meters in length with up to 25 hooks.
 
Using HMAS Huon’s sophisticated sweep deck, Navy personnel recovered all five longlines and cut free, two 1-1.5 metre tiger sharks and one 3 metre oceanic whaler shark.
 
Huon’s Diving Officer, Lieutenant Sam Mairs, said the crew jumped into action when the sharks were found to be alive and tangled in the line.

“Recovering the longlines can be hazardous due to their length and the number of sharp hooks attached,” Lieutenant Mairs said.
 
“The evolution normally requires ‘all hands on deck’ with the ship’s company rotating through various positions. We try to move quickly in order to free any marine life trapped in the lines.”

A shark is freed from an illegal longline by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.

A shark is freed from an illegal longline by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.

Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan holds a confiscated illegal longline fishing cable that was retrieved from the sea near Ashmore Island by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.

Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan holds a confiscated illegal longline fishing cable that was retrieved from the sea near Ashmore Island by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.

 

Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan took charge of the evolution with the guidance and expertise of embarked Australian Fisheries Management Authority officer, Mr Gavin Lovelock.
 
“Some of the sharks were tangled in the line from their snout to their tail,” Leading Seaman Callaghan said.
 
“Unfortunately, abandoned longlines can continue to trap fish and trap marine life and lead to these results.
 
“The experience really brought the team together, working as quickly as possible to free the sharks and there was a great sense of relief when they swam away.
 
“It was one of the most rewarding moments in my career and it was made even more special when a huge whale shark came up to the ship to have a sticky-beak,” she said.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143804.

Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan (lower left and fellow HMAS Huon sailors gather by confiscated illegal longline fishing cables and floats that were retrieved from the sea near Ashmore Island by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.

Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan (lower left and fellow HMAS Huon sailors gather by confiscated illegal longline fishing cables and floats that were retrieved from the sea near Ashmore Island by Navy and Australian Fisheries Management Authority personnel.


Longlines are set either on the ocean floor or near the surface on the water with the surface longline buoyed by styrofoam or plastic floats. Longlines can be tens of kilometres long and carry thousands of hooks. The sharks targeted by foreign fishermen are caught mostly for their fins, a valuable commodity in food markets in Asia.
 
Abandoned longlines are just one of the many negative consequences of illegal foreign fishing which threatens the sustainability of Australian fisheries. Navy works together with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Customs and Border Protection to combat illegal foreign fishing and where abandoned fishing gear is found to remove it from the environment.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143804.