Stab Magazine | Sharks And The Burley Question
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Sharks And The Burley Question

What role do burley trails from fishing trawlers, recreational fisherman and shark-cage-diving play in shark attacks?

news // Aug 4, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As shark hysteria once again grips the east and west coasts of Australia, there is one aspect of the debate that is being discussed very little the effect of burley trails, both deliberate and unintended, on luring sharks to shore.

In Ballina, where three shark encounters and a half-dozen sightings and close calls have ocean goers on high alert, there is a river mouth used by a number of commercial fishing trawlers. The trawlers are known to attract sharks when they dump their fish waste and by-catch over the side. Typically this is done further out to sea, but what are the chances that sharks follow the boats all the way from out to sea into the the river mouth before hopping off at the entrance where people are surfing? It was a question I put to Cliff Corbett, a commercial fisherman of 50 years experience in waters off Australia’s east, west and southern coastlines. As an avid surfer in the waters around Ballina, with children who do the same, he has a foot in both camps.

“Some of them do, some of them don’t,” he replies when I ask him whether it’s common for sharks to follow commercial trawlers back, adding: “It’s nearly always bronzies that sit under the trawlers,” and, “they’ll get chased away by the bull sharks.”

980652 trawler

Although bull sharks are typically thought of as a smaller, lesser predator to the great white, Cliff says that’s misleading. They get comparably big to whites and what they lack in size they make up for aggression. It’s bull sharks, he says, that are the main culprit in attacks and close calls in his area.

Don Munro, president of the Lenox-Ballina Boardriders Club, is in the midst of the shark problem along the NSW far north coast, and refuses to blame commercial fishing trawlers and their burley trail.

“I’ve been in the water many times when the trawlers are coming in,” he says. “They fish off Lennox here. The main cause really is your bait balls, mullet when it’s running, and the whales.” Cliff agrees, putting the latest run of shark sightings and encounters down to a bumper whale season along the east coast.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/iElXeV0cTzA

“When you have those whales moving up the coast, what you have is flocks – not one or two – there is flocks of white pointers underneath them. They’re only 10, 12, 15 foot long. They are babies, mate, they’ve still got their nappies on. That’s why they’re following the whales and the schools of fish moving up.”

However, Cliff is scathing of recreational fisherman who burley up next to surfers on the beach.

“If I was surfing or swimming and I had some dickhead come up to me and started burleying up I’d show him the wrong side of me,” he says. He is similarly critical of the burleying operations of the shark-cage diving industry, which he says create a feeding association for sharks that revolves around human contact.

“What you’re doing is getting that fish in a feeding habit,” he says. “Like you do if you’ve got fish in a tank… They’ve put the habit in the shark. I fully disagree with burleying the sharks up. That’s fucken stupid, mate.”

shark1

Here, fishy.

He is also incredulous great white sharks were ever put on the endangered list.

“When they declared white pointers a protected species every professional fisherman in the world just laughed and shook their head. What a bunch of dickheads. They’re (scientists) people that live with their heads in a book, mate. You know where they get their information from? Us! Fisherman! They call us. We are the scientists of the ocean.”

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