A petition calling for justice for Sydney’s most beloved fish, Gus, after a Kiwi allegedly illegally killed it, has attracted more than 500 signatures.
Sydney locals erupted in anger following reports a 26-year-old man from New Zealand was fined only A$800 ($859) by local authorities after illegally spearing a blue groper at a marine reserve in Cronulla on December 30.
Photos shared widely on social media show the man in a wetsuit triumphantly holding the slain groper after spearing it at Oak Park Beach.
Now, an online petition started by the New South Wales Animal Justice Party is demanding justice for the beloved fish and protection for other gropers living in the local marine environment.
“Gropers are our state fish. They are supposedly protected by law from spearfishers, but the law did not protect Gus,” wrote a party spokesperson.
“What is even more enraging is that even though the man who killed Gus was caught, the A$800 fine he received was woefully inadequate for the violent and deliberate act. He not only illegally speared Gus, a protected species, but he did so in an area designated as a no-spearfishing zone”.
The blue groper is the official fish of New South Wales and spearfishing the species is prohibited. The maximum fine is A$22,000 or six months in prison.
State police said the man had been questioned and fined A$500 for fishing in a no-fishing zone.
“Gus didn’t see humans as a threat, he may have swum right up to his killer expecting a pat but instead, he was shot with a speargun in a callous, cowardly, and illegal act,” the petition reads.
As at 8pm on Wednesday, the petition had received 542 signatures, just over half of its 1000-signature goal.
In a section directed at the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, Tara Moriarty, the petition asked for an increase in the penalty issued, an explanation as to why the initial fine issued for killing the fish was so inadequate and an introduction of a licensing system for spearfishermen similar to the one for firearms.
However, in a shock claim, wildlife documentary maker David Ireland told the Daily Mail Australia the dead fish is not, in fact, Gus.
Ireland said Gus was bigger than the fish shown in photos and also had a distinctive scar on his tail from a previous spearfishing encounter.
The 76-year-old ran a nearby dive shop and befriended the fish in the 1980s when he was teaching diving. He said Gus was able to instantly pick him out from other divers.
“Eventually he was so tame, I could put my arms around him like a puppy dog and pat him… I named him Gus, and that went on for decades,” Ireland told the news outlet.
“I knew him very well – and the fish that was killed by that idiot was not Gus.”
There were seven to 10 groper living in the area and the dead fish was likely to be one of Gus’ offspring, Ireland said.
He had choice words for the spearfisherman, saying there were “always f***wits everywhere”, and the man’s wetsuit and gear showed he knew what he was doing and must have known it was illegal.
But there would have been no sport in the kill as blue groper were so friendly the fish had likely swum right up to the man.
“It was me who tamed Gus. It was me who named Gus. You’ve got all these so-called experts coming out of the woodwork – they know nothing.”
NSW Police said officers were unable to locate the groper but it was believed it had been returned to the sea.
Residents have proposed the area at Oak Park where the groper was killed should be named Gus Reserve as a tribute.
Others have described the dead marine giant as “amiable” and a “true companion” who swam alongside divers exploring the beach.
“Gus, the blue groper, was a sentient being with the right to live peacefully in his natural habitat. It’s not just the local community that has expressed sorrow and anger, but people across Sydney, Australia, and the world,” the petition said.
Benjamin Plummer is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He has worked for the Herald since 2022.