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Byron Shire
June 24, 2021

Shark net support drops

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Shark nets unpopular, but tagging supported

The shark net program at five north coast beaches over the past two summers has seen a decline in support, the NSW government has admitted.

Yet with the latest community survey results on north coast shark nets released, Nationals minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair said it showed ‘significant support for SMART drumlines and drones’.

Touted as a world first, the NSW government’s $16m Shark Management Strategy ‘is an innovative program, trialling a number of shark mitigation technologies aimed at increasing protection for beachgoers while minimising harm to sharks or other marine life.’

The strategy includes trials of SMART drumlines, drones and helicopters for aerial surveillance, community education, and research into personal and area-based shark deterrents. 

Blair said the government’s shark tagging program ‘is the largest in the world, with 277 White Sharks, 37 Tiger Sharks and 61 Bull Sharks being actively tracked by scientists.’

Nationals minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, said, ‘We have been tagging sharks through our successful SMART drumline program for a couple of years now.’

‘These tagged sharks are tracked on NSW’s network of 21 listening stations, located up and down the coast from Merimbula north to Tweed Heads.’

Local Nationals MLC Ben Franklin added that ‘gauging public opinion has been an important part of the shark net trials on the north coast.’ 

We know this has been a very divisive issue for locals and I have been working closely with the community to ensure we deliver the best outcome,’ Mr Franklin said. 

‘I want to reassure the community that I am working closely with the minister to make sure we are trialling the best technologies.’

‘Of course we will continue to listen and have more to say ahead of summer.’

The DPI’s second shark net trial info graphic press release said, ‘Despite catching fewer non-target animals in the second net trial, the majority of residents feel the by-catch remains unacceptable.’ This was reflected over the two trial periods.

Remarkably, every other shark deterrent measure has overwhelming support.

‘Surfers from Ballina, Shire and Evans Head Remained the most positive about the nets and believe they have had an effect on community however, their support for nets has decreased over time.’

‘In the most recent survey, shark nets had the least amount of support of any measure (for both residents of Ballina and Evans Head and other locations).’

As for what was caught in the second trial, held between November 2017 and May 2018, the DPI claims 145 animals were caught, including two target sharks (Bull) while 143 non target animals were caught. 86 of those were released alive. Species caught include turtles dolphins and other sharks. By far the largest majority of animals caught were rays at 73.8 per cent.

Millions blown on shark net trials

Commenting on the governments approach to the shark net trials Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith pointed out that, ‘The government said that it would be guided by the science but it didn’t listen to what the science said.’

‘When you are making decisions on ocean safety this should be about the science not guided by opinion. The science is clear that the shark nets did not catch the target species and was ineffective compared to the use of smart drum lines. We (the Greens) maintain that drones and shark spotting is the most effective approach if you want non-lethal shark mitigation, especially in relation to alerting surfers, because that is what is supported by the science.

‘The millions the government has spent on this could have supported Shark Watch from the get go.’

Annual shark net report

Also released last week was the 2017/18 annual performance report on the state’s existing shark nets. The report did not include the north coast netting trial results.

Humane Society International (HSI) said it was appalled at the statistics from the NSW Shark Meshing Program, which showed 403 animals were captured in nets – an increase of 30 animals from last year. Around 55 per cent of these animals were killed, they say, which is ‘12 more than last year.’

HSI’s Nicola Beynon said, ‘Tragically, many were critically endangered, threatened and protected species.’

‘The deaths of ten critically endangered grey nurse sharks in the latest meshing season shows an urgent need for the government to move to non-lethal technology. The east coast population of grey nurse sharks is estimated to be between 1,146 and 1,662 individuals, so the fact it made up five per cent of the total capture in the latest shark net season is truly horrifying.’

Future shark net trails

When asked if his government would be scrapping the nets given there was not much local support, minister Blair replied his job today was to meet with stakeholders and then go back to parliament and to make a considered position after consulting with his department and colleagues.


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