Stab Magazine | Western Australia abandons shark drum lines
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Western Australia abandons shark drum lines

Story by Lucas Townsend After a 13-week trial in Western Australia, the State Government’s controversial drum lines will not be used this summer to lure and kill sharks. The decision was based on findings last week from the state’s Environmental Protection Authority, which believed there was too much uncertainty about how the baited drum lines […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Story by Lucas Townsend

After a 13-week trial in Western Australia, the State Government’s controversial drum lines will not be used this summer to lure and kill sharks.

The decision was based on findings last week from the state’s Environmental Protection Authority, which believed there was too much uncertainty about how the baited drum lines would affect the environment, and advised against extending the catch and kill policy.

And what timing – just two days after Byron Bay local Paul Wilcox was mauled by a suspected great white on the other side of the country while swimming 15 metres from shore. Speaking for the first time since her husband’s death, The Courier Mail reported Victoria Wilcox told a local paper yesterday: “I don’t blame the shark.”  The attack was shocking and, coinciding with summer-like weather, marked the beginning of what could be a long season of clichéd Jaws headlines and the continuation of the ‘cull or be culled’ debate.

Back to the West: The State Government began the $1.3 million trial in January following a tragic run of shark attacks and set up drum lines off five Perth beaches and another two in the south-west. The ABC reports that 68 sharks have been caught and shot since the trial’s inception, although none were great whites. Of those, seven were female tiger sharks.

The State Government was seeking federal backing to extend the policy for another three years to catch great white, tiger and bull sharks bigger than three metres. That was until the EPA chairman, Paul Vogel, determined that their decision was based on too much scientific uncertainty, particularly the overarching threat to the endangered great white.

photo source: SBS

A shark captured off the WA coast. Photo source: SBS

But even the “endangered” tag isn’t simply a black and white decision. Jock Serong, editor of Great Ocean Quarterly who’s reported extensively on the topic, wrote: “There is simply no way of counting a solitary wild animal in an unwatchable environment. So we protect them on the precautionary principle that if it’s likely we are pushing an animal towards extinction through the combined effect of our actions, we should assume the need for protection. As he told me this, Barry Bruce (CSIRO’s chief researcher of great whites) and I were sitting on a rented fishing trawler, filling the water with pungent burley in a known nursery area. We’d been at it for six hours, and hadn’t seen a fin.”

In a win for the activists, the Government is very unlikely to appeal the EPA’s decision.

Earlier this year when the media cycle had full-grip of that ‘cull’ word that’s become very buzz, opinion was more divided than ever. Premier Colin Barnett announced the policy and became public enemy number one. In Manly, thousands of protestors wore shark hats, carried inflatable shark toys and cuddle not cull signs in protest. In fact, protests were held in nearly every capital city, as well as New Zealand and South Africa. And because they surf in WA so often Ricky Gervais and Richard Branson felt they should condemned the policy, too.

For surfers, it largely turned into an east versus west divide. The east were looking at it as outsiders with green hearts, the west were living it with a heavy one, having lost mates and sons from their line-ups. And it isn’t until you then surf ever morning with that thought does your opinion in this matter get truly contextualised and have any gravity. Not whether you bought a blow-up toy from a Manly convenience store and spared 20 minutes out of your Saturday.

Shark protest early this year at Perth's Cottesloe Beach. photo source: AAP

Shark protest early this year at Perth’s Cottesloe Beach. photo source: AAP

Dave Macaulay, former world tour surfer from Gracetown told Stab in February: “I live in the shark fatality capital of the world. We’re all pretty rattled down that way with the amount of fatal shark attacks in the last few years. The Chris Boyd attack was the final straw and that’s how most people saw it, but not everyone, y’know. It’s still definitely divisive and I understand that. But at the same time we don’t feel very safe in the water down there.”

Barnett told Parliament following the EPA’s call he believed the south-west beaches were still under threat: “I cannot look the people in the south-west in the face and say ‘your beaches are safe, your diving [and] surfing conditions are safe’ because I don’t believe they are.”

I spoke to my dad this evening and we got onto the topic of the drum lines. A surfer of 40-odd years, he said his biggest fear in life is still getting taken by a shark. “It’s the thought of being ripped apart by something wild that does it,” he said. “It’d be a gruesome end.” While it wasn’t a cull or not cull discussion, my pops’ sentiment showed the one thing that cuts through any data or statistics: These conversations are all emotionally charged and built largely on fear.

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