Ballina MP Tamara Smith has vowed to fight for the removal of ‘smart’ shark drum lines, set to be trialled on the north coast this summer, if they kill marine life such as turtles and dolphins.
The Greens MP has joined a chorus of concern by conservation groups that the drum lines have not been proven to be effective.
Primary industries minister Niall Blair on Wednesday announced the technology as part of a $16 million shark management strategy and Ballina will be the first beach in the state to get the drum lines.
The state government’s move comes in response to a series of shark attacks off Ballina area beaches this year, two of which were fatal.
Ms Smith has urged a ‘watch and see’ approach, saying she ‘will be holding premier Mike Baird and the primary industries minister to their word, that the trial will be ‘transparent and guided by science’.
This morning, the MP will attend a public hearing in Ballina of the NSW Committee on Investment, Industry and Regional Development’s Parliamentary Inquiry hearing on the Management of Sharks in NSW.
Ms Smith, who is the NSW Greens spokesperson for marine environment and fisheries, said the government’s plan ’is not considered the final solution to shark management on our beaches, it’s simply a trial’.
‘This technology has only been committed for testing and if it doesn’t work for our ocean users and threatens our marine life I will be calling for their immediate removal,’ she said.
‘Bi-catch and fatalities of our marine life will be unacceptable.
‘I will personally be seeking to join monitoring crews on boats throughout this trial period.
‘The minister has assured me that DPI staff will be rostered to enable a 24-hour call out response, in order to tag and release marine life who meet with the technology.
‘I will also be making sure Byron Bay beaches are adequately supported as part of the trials, through measures that do not interfere with the health of Cape Byron Marine Park.
Drum lines not tested
Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd Australia says it was disappointed the NSW government has ignored advice from a independent review into non-lethal options to mitigate shark encounters in the state.
The group says it’s also disappointed the smart drum lines would not be subjected to an environmental impact assessment.
Sea Shepherd Australia’s national shark campaign coordinator Natalie Banks says a scientific review outlined concerns with smart drum lines, which found that they had not been independently assessed in terms of their effectiveness to catch white, tiger or bull sharks.
‘Smart drum lines which have been used in Le Reunion, France have not been independently tested regarding their effectiveness or their impacts on a range of marine life within Australian waters,’ Ms Banks said.
‘Additionally, the review highlighted concerns of how to manage larger sharks and whether these sharks will need to be killed or towed out to sea.
‘With so many people concerned about the use of drum lines in Western Australia, prior to the implementation of them in January 2014, Sea Shepherd is surprised that the NSW government has gone down this avenue.
‘It appears to me that we continue to repeat the same mistakes from the past in terms of shark management in Australia, instead of looking to programs that have scientifically proven to work in other jurisdictions,’ Ms Banks said.
‘Shark Spotters which has been in place within Cape Town, South Africa for nearly eleven years, has been scientifically proven to work, after spotting over 1,700 sharks which are mainly White Sharks, and having only one fatality during a low-visibility day.
‘Shark Spotters was also the only program that the scientific review by Cardno recommended as a initiative that could be implemented immediately.
‘Why the NSW government has ignored a review that they commissioned, is beyond me,’ Ms Banks said.
Marine animals killed
And the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC) says it will closely scrutinise the performance of the trial to ensure it minimizes harm to threatened marine species and meets its public safety objectives.
NCC marine campaigner Justin Field said the government’s plans to increase surveillance were welcome but ‘we have concerns about the potential environmental impact of “smart” drum-lines to be trialled near Ballina, a technology that will provide little if any added bather protection’.
‘Drum-lines, even “smart” drum-lines, can injure and kill sharks, including endangered and non-threatening species, as well as dolphins, whales, and turtles. There is nothing “smart” about killing marine life,’ Mr Field said.
‘We also know drum-lines and shark nets can give ocean users a false sense of security because they don’t prevent bites, which in any case are very rare events.
‘We are waiting for more information on the protocols around the proposed drum-line trial, but the community has consistently said it doesn’t support killing sharks.’
Mr Field said there were still many unanswered questions around the government’s trial, including:
• where the drum lines will be placed
• how long it would take crews to respond to hooking events
• protocols for handling and releasing hooked animals
• how the trial’s effectiveness will be evaluated
‘We’re asking for a commitment from the premier and primary idustries minister that the lines be immediately withdrawn and the program reviewed if deaths of marine animals occur,’ Mr Field said.
‘There were other non-lethal technologies considered as part of the review of shark deterrent technologies that are preferable, including South Africa’s successful ‘shark spotters’ program, which engages the community in the solution.
“We recognise and support the government’s decision to not expand shark netting, which is damaging to marine life and does not enhance bather protection.
‘We also support the expanded surveillance program, but that needs to be matched with a program to educate and inform ocean users of the presence of shark activities. This is where the ‘shark spotters’ program can also be valuable.’
The public hearing of the parliamentary inquiry today will be held at the Ballina Surf Club from 10.15am. Government, tourism and business, shark experts and surf lifesaving representatives will address the committee.