By-catch fears prompt ban calls as shark nets removed

Shark nets catch non-targeted species such as whales, dolphins and turtles.

Shark nets catch non-targeted species such as whales, dolphins and turtles. Photo: AAP

Shark nets are being removed from beaches for what critics hope will be the last time.

The nets were used at 51 NSW beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong from the start of September until the end of April, targeting white, tiger and bull sharks near popular NSW swimming spots.

But they caught at least 208 other animals, killing 134, the Humane Society International Australia says.

The death toll included critically endangered grey nurse sharks and endangered turtles among other non-target species such as whales, dolphins and rays, according to the society.

The by-catch data is similar to previous seasons and coastal communities are becoming fed up with the “wildlife death traps”, Humane Society campaigner Lawrence Chlebeck said.

“Year after year, nine out of 10 animals caught in the nets are non-target species and without providing any benefit to public safety,” he said.

The nets are not a total barrier but are designed to deter sharks establishing territories near popular swimming spots, according to the Department of Primary Industries, which sits within the Department of Regional NSW.

A report on the program’s recent season would be released once data had been analysed, a spokesperson for Regional NSW Minister Tara Moriarty said.

“Any future changes to shark net regulation in NSW will need to be evidence-based and ensure that residents and visitors can continue to enjoy our beautiful beaches,” the spokesperson said.

Technologies such as drumlines and drones were not advanced enough to replace nets, Premier Chris Minn said when they were reintroduced in September.

A drumline system using bait and GPS satellites to hook sharks, allowing them to be fitted with trackers before being released, has been trialled since late 2015, with 305 in use during the most recent season.

The shark management program rolled out 37 listening stations for tagged sharks and conducted surveillance drone patrols at 50 beaches.

NSW has the most advanced shark risk strategy in the world and more effective modern techniques should end the use of nets, Chlebeck said.

There has been one fatal shark attack at a netted NSW beach since the mesh began being used in 1937.

Australian Marine Conservation Society shark scientist Leonardo Guida said drumlines and drones were being used at those beaches now.

“Modern alternatives to nets are already working and in place after more than a decade of development, minus the horrific by-catch numbers,” he said.

Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the use of shark nets was outdated.

“It is long overdue that these outdated methods are assessed under our national environment laws,” he wrote to federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek earlier in April.

Shark nets are used in Queensland under a program to be reviewed this year.

“The Queensland government always puts the safety of people first and will not make changes, including the removal of shark nets, until effective alternatives are identified and proven suitable,” Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner wrote in response to a petition for nets to be removed earlier in April.


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