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Shark Nets Planned For Northern NSW Despite Total Fact-Void

Two attacks in recent weeks have yielded decisive action from the NSW State Government who will now rush to introduce shark nets across the NSW North Coast - the area encompassing Ballina and Byron Bay. 

After being forced to abandon his original ‘eco-friendly’ shark barrier strategy halfway through completion earlier this year, NSW State Premier Mike Baird will now employ traditional shark nets alongside 85-100 ‘smart’ drum lines on the North Coast. The strategy is almost identical to Queensland’s shark control program, which has been in play since 1962. QLD, whose state line begins just over an hour from the North Coast has, according to ABC, had just one fatal shark attack on a controlled beach since the program was implemented in 1962, compared to 27 fatal attacks between 1919 and 1961. 

In other parts of NSW, where shark nets are used, there was an average of one fatal shark attack every year before the nets being introduction in 1936. There has been only one fatal attack on a protected beach since then and that was in 1951. 

Of the decision, Mike Baird wrote on Facebook:

"Opponents of nets rightly point to the fact they can also kill dolphins, turtles and other marine life. And no one wants that. But supporters will point out the fact they have effectively protected beaches from Wollongong to Newcastle for decades."

"Although the north coast community isn’t unanimous about this, the feedback we get is that the sentiment has shifted, people have had enough of the shark attacks and are now determined to trial nets. Local businesses have been suffering – especially tourism – and as we approach summer, people want us to take action."

"Yes, I remain conscious of the environmental concerns but, ultimately, protecting human life has to remain the government’s priority."

The broader North Coast community, meanwhile, remains as split as ever.  Ballina Greens MP, Tamara Smith, told Byron Shire’s The Echo Newspaper, that she did not believe sentiment had changed along the North Coast and that most were still in favour of “non-lethal methods” to mitigate shark attacks. 

 

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A whale calf stuck in a net on the Gold Coast last Saturday. Photo: Sea World

 

"I call on the Premier to fund a shark spotting program by local group Shark Watch and to invest in developing technologies that go with surfers to improve their safety," Ms Smith said.

"I ask the Premier to consider the safety of all ocean users and to fund non-lethal methods such as shark spotting instead of thinking only about his poll numbers and trying to win the next election," she added.

Speaking to ABC radio, Ballina Mayor David Wright called for more information along with vigilance on behalf of the authorities administering the nets and drum lines. 

"One way around it would be to have a fisheries boat standing by, or available to be able to release any dolphin or whale or sharks that get caught," he told ABC radio.

When the great white was first lifted onto Australia's endangered list in 1994, scientists at the time agreed the data that put them there was inconclusive. Specifically, it was meshing (shark net) records for New South Wales and Queensland; game fishing records from New South Wales and South Australia; and anecdotal sighting frequencies by tourism operators and divers in South Australia - all of which reported declining catches and sightings that led to great whites protection. And so the debate wages on the remains of little conclusive data reguarding shark numbers and behaviours.

The problems with the data were many: there had been changes in shark meshing regimes over that period which could have skewed findings; the fishing efforts of certain commercial operators may have changed; not to mention the fact next to nothing was known at the time about the migratory patterns of great whites. Then there was the contentious nature of the report. While it anecdotally cited a decrease in great whites, the report also included contradictory evidence telling of a rise in great white numbers in certain parts of the country. Two decades on, we're none the wiser about shark numbers or their behaviour. 

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