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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Drones go up as nets again fail to catch sharks

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A ray found by Sea Shepherd volunteers trapped in a Ballina shark net on Sunday January 7, 2018. Photo Sea Shepherd Australia

Chris Dobney

The NSW Government has turned to drones after a second controversial trial of shark nets on the North Coast caught even fewer sharks than the previous trial in 2016-17.

But it has still failed to rule out returning nets to North Coast beaches again next year, despite their overwhelming failure to protect bathers and an increase in so-called ‘bycatch’ (by far the majority of sea creatures caught).

In last year’s trial, conducted by DPI Fisheries, the nets caught six target species out of 244 animals caught. The result this year (23 November to 31 March) was even less effective: with just one live and one dead bull shark netted.

Meanwhile a total of 264 of ‘non target’ sea creatures were caught, of which 83 were found dead.

The most common species netted were rays, with a total of 41 Australian cownose rays caught (including 9 found dead) and 41 whitespotted eagle rays (including four found dead) trapped in the nets.

Other species found trapped included a green turtle, a hawksbill turtle and a grey nurse shark, all of which are endangered, and three dolphins, one of which was found dead.

The nets were deployed for 28 days during March but only checked 14 times. DPI claims this was due to weather conditions.

North Coast-based Nationals MLC Ben Franklin in the obligatory ‘photo op’ with North Coast surf life savers and their new drones. Photo supplied

Drones go up

Meanwhile, Nationals Parliamentary Secretary for Northern NSW, Ben Franklin has announced a new trial of drones, just in time for the end of the season, which he acknowledges have ‘proven themselves as an effective tool in our arsenal for detecting sharks’.

The latest trial of drones will take place at Byron Bay, Ballina, Lennox Head and Evans Head.

Surf Life Saving NSW has used $430,000 in state government funding to purchase drones and train drone pilots, which, Mr Franklin said in a media release ‘is allowing for never-before-seen shark surveillance at beaches.’

Two of the drones will be part of mobile units fitted with a flotation device that can be dropped down to swimmers, an alarm and a loudspeaker.

Up to nine beaches will have the smaller drones fitted with Shark Spotter technology and will fly each morning.

Mr Franklin said ‘this innovative technology is again proving to be a genuine lifesaver in our communities and an essential piece of equipment on our beaches’.

‘Drones not only benefit locals but also the thousands of tourists who flock to the North Coast’s pristine beaches each year, giving them some extra assurance when they head to the beach these school holidays,’ Mr Franklin said.

The drones will complement helicopter aerial surveillance already underway on the North Coast for both the Queensland and NSW school holidays and, his media release omitted to mention, shark nets.

The government is also continuing trials of SMART drumlines every day, weather permitting, between Evans Head and Lennox Head on the North Coast he added.

Information on sharks is relayed from the helicopters to the SharkSmart App and @NSWSharkSmart on Twitter.


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  1. I cannot believe that in this age of technology that we are still using nets ..they are F….NG USELESS …Specially the ones on Sharpes Beach …they stretch for (approximately) 100 metres across “bay” of about 3km …how the hell would they ever protect the beach?……whoever thought of this as protection should be “f…d and burned” (as my great mate Billy Connolly would say)…it’s an insult to homo sapiens (and approved by politicians)….

    • Spot on Paul. That nets keep us ‘safe’ is a myth. Sharks as well as other marine creatures can swim under, over and around installed nets.I live in Sydney and I have to frequently point out the fact that on Sydney’s beach nets more sharks are caught on the inside / beachside of nets than are caught on the outside / oceanside of nets. We are swimming with sharks all the time its just that we don’t see them and they do the right thing by mostly leaving us alone to swim and surf at our leisure. Yet there is hysteria bout sharks and they are labelled man eaters. If sharks were indeed ‘man eaters’ then there would be non stop shark attacks on ocean swimmers and surfers. NO NETS!

  2. On the DPI website it says:

    “Shark nets do not create an enclosed area, or provide a barrier between beachgoers and sharks. They are designed to reduce the likelihood of shark interactions by catching large, potentially dangerous sharks aggregating near the netted beach”

    As a local surfer, I know shark interactions have definitely decreased – so by that metric they have succeeded, which I think is the ultimate reason they were installed.

    Although maybe shark interactions have decreased for other reasons unrelated to the trial. However I agree – ideally yes it would be amazing if nothing was harmed, not even humans.

    • We humans have the choice to go or not to go into the ocean. We can always swim in a pool. Sharks and other marine creatures have no choice, the ocean is their one and only home. So then, what right do we humans have to install ‘killer nets’ in another creatures home? We humans don’t own the planet yet we act like The Lord and Master where everything else around us is expendable / collateral damage as we pursue our lifestyle choices.

    • Nets ‘are designed to reduce the likelihood of shark interactions by catching large and potentially dangerous sharks aggregating near the netted beach.’ Problem is, according to DPI’s own data, they DO NOT!

      The reason shark interactions have decreased is that productivity is not close to shore, as it was when interactions increased. In 2015-16 productivity was ridiculously close to shore, as we saw from the numerous large bait balls and flocks of gannets. Sharks follow food, they do not follow humans.

      How can nets have anything to do with the decrease in interactions if they didn’t catch target sharks? And why was the same decrease in interactions seen in Byron, where there were no nets?

      While surfers may know about surfing, most know absolutely diddly-squat about the ocean and even less about sharks. Perhaps if you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time in the ocean, you may want to learn more about it than swell and wind conditions. Just saying.

  3. How can you say the nets have not worked when we have not had further incidents? Seems they are working just like they do on the goldie and sydney. Perhaps its Green-Poli-Spin that lets you paint it as a failure.

    • The two are entirely unrelated (nets and no further incidents). Otherwise, how do you explain that there have been no further incidents in Byron, where no nets have been deployed? Working just like they do in Sydney and on the Goldie?? Yes, providing a false sense of security to the fearful few at the cost of slaughtering endangered species. Perhaps it’s your misguided, right-wing mentality that let’s you paint it as a success despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

    • Thommo my man you have missed the point in the story. The supposed ‘target’ sharks are not the ones that are predominantly being caught. It is overwhelmingly the ‘non target’ sea creatures that are being caught. The numbers show that the ‘killer nets’ are a fail in relation to sharks. STOP THE NETS!

  4. The heading of the story is the problem. The primary aim of the nets is not to catch sharks. The main aim is to deter the so-called target sharks from creating a “territory”. Any sharks or other species caught in the nets is called collateral damage, generally a small price to pay for the overall good.


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