By Mia Armitage
At least four of five North Coast shark nets were hauled from the ocean on Sunday after Sea Shepherd activists found two rays entangled off Lighthouse Beach in Ballina.
Marine scientist Scott Wallace said he saw two white spotted eagle rays caught when he dove with fellow Apex Harmony shark protection campaigner Zaid Dillon from Sea Shepherd’s inflatable raft, Grey Nurse.
They obviously haven’t checked the nets for a while, said captain Jonathan Clark when Mr Wallace confirmed one of the rays was dead and decomposing.
Mr Wallace was unsure how long it took the ray to reach its decomposition levels but guessed around two days.
A second caught ray, also believed to be a white spotted eagle ray, survived and Department of Primary Industries contractors cut the animal free from the net some twenty minutes later.
Captain Clark reminded all aboard Grey Nurse not to touch the shark nets lest DPI authorities issue a $22,000 fine to offenders.
Contractors aboard Wahoo removed nets from Lighthouse and Shelly Beaches around midday and said they had already taken nets out of the water at Sharpes Beach and Main Beach, Evans Head.
‘They’ll be out of the water all week,’ said one contractor, who appeared to be Wahoo’s captain but did not identify himself, ‘we’ve got some bad weather coming’.
He said a fifth net at Seven Mile Beach in Lennox Head was under another contractor’s responsibility and didn’t know if it was to stay in the ocean.
One of the three men aboard Wahoo confirmed he was a DPI representative paid to observe the contractors at work, as stipulated in the DPI’s North Coast Shark Management Plan.
DPI authorities hired local fishers to check shark nets at least twice daily but last month said poor weather was hampering regular inspection efforts.
Le-Ba Boardriders President Don Munro told press at the time weather had been predominantly fine and should not have stopped net checks while Ballina Councillor Keith Richardson said contractors were not being paid enough.
Nets were checked less than 1.5 times per day on average in the first two months of the NSW government’s controversial North Coast Shark Net Trial with a third monthly report due this week.
Captain Clark, QLD co-ordinator for the Apex Harmony campaign, said activists planned to check nets again as soon as possible but he was pleased contractors had removed nets temporarily.
‘We’re here to advocate for human and marine safety,’ he said, ‘we want the most effective, non-lethal shark mitigation strategies possible and the shark net trial is not that’.
A national senate inquiry into shark mitigation began in mid-February and Mr Clark said Apex Harmony campaigners had made a submission.