Local divers and ocean lovers are fighting to end illegal ray mutilation and slaughter in Melbourne, Australia’s Port Phillip Bay. Some local recreational fishermen are landing the rays as bycatch, mutilating them, and then throwing them back into the water alive. Back in the water, the rays can take multiple days to die.
Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, surrounds Port Phillip Bay, which multiple species of ray call home. Fishermen are targeting two particularly, the banjo ray and the smooth ray. Banjo rays are similar in size to a medium-build dog. Beautiful, vibrant patterns cover their bodies. They startle easily and avoid humans when they can. Curious, friendly smooth rays can grow up to six feet wide. Divers often encounter these rays when the animals swim in close to have a look.
Over the last few years, unfortunately, local fishermen have slaughtered an increasing number of native rays and left them to slowly die on the seafloor. In recent months, divers have found large groups of banjo rays still alive, with their heads split open. They often take up to three days to die. Fishermen have also hacked smooth rays to pieces and thrown them into the water to suffer a similar fate.
Recreational fishermen using the wrong fishing tackle often catch the rays by mistake. It’s thought that they then either mutilate them in anger or kill them purposely so that they no longer catch them. It is legal to catch a ray for personal consumption in Australia, but it is illegal to catch them for another purpose. The law states that they must be released unharmed back into the ocean. Failure to do so carries a fine of $300 AUD.
Local advocacy groups step in
Local advocacy group Project Banjo has started a campaign to #raysawareness. This includes a Facebook page, evidence gathering and an online petition calling for tougher and more defined penalties for people perpetrating animal cruelty. The petition has brought the issue into the spotlight, encouraging other groups to help act against this slaughter. Local activists have also been out campaigning and trying to educate people about these ray species while simultaneously collecting evidence of where and when the slaughters are taking place.
The Victorian Recreational Fishing Peak Body is committed to preventing this slaughter, and is anxious to help educate local fishermen. The state fisheries agency has also started listening. It is looking at educational programs, better definition on current laws, and stricter penalties for offenders who are caught by undercover fisheries officers who regularly enforce bag and catch limits.