Sydney shark nets set to stay despite drumline success
The shark meshing program around Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong will continue, despite research showing more effective methods are now available.
There have been two shark-net trials on the state's north coast over the past two years, which snared 11 target sharks such as great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks.
More than 400 other marines animals were caught at the same time, with about half dying as a result.
Smart drumlines, which allow animals to be tagged and released, were trialled in the same area over a similar period.
They hooked 52 target sharks and 19 non-target species.
Department of Primary Industries senior research scientist Paul Butcher said the bycatch associated with smart drum lines was minimal.
"Overall the picture is that we're catching our target species, they're alive when we're catching them, and they're moving well offshore for a number of days after we capture them," he said.
"It's a good result for local beaches where we are intercepting what we're calling dangerous sharks … and then releasing them and they're moving offshore."
"It's not to say that they don't come back to the coast, but they certainly don't come straight back in to those beaches."
Shark nets will remain between Newcastle and Wollongong, and in Sydney (Photo: Department of Primary Industries)
No plan to change strategy
New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said community surveys in the area showed support for shark nets was waning.
"Community attitudes have moved right away from the initial support for the nets to be sort of 50–50," he said.
"Which obviously makes my and my cabinet colleagues' job a little bit harder."
Mr Blair said a final decision on whether meshing would resume on the north coast was still several weeks away, but there was no plan to remove the nets between Newcastle and Wollongong.
"We've had the nets in Sydney … since the 1930s and that's going to remain in place at the moment," he said.
"At the moment this is a north coast solution and a north coast discussion. We are not considering changing the meshing strategy between Newcastle and Wollongong."
Nets an 'outdated and ineffective technology'
That decision has been attacked by the Humane Society International, which described the statistics from the Sydney meshing program as shocking.
It said more than 403 animals had been captured in the nets between September 2017 and April, of which 369 were non-target species.
The animals killed in the nets included 10 critically endangered grey nurse sharks, 14 great white sharks, seven green turtles and seven dolphins.
Spokeswoman Nicola Beynon said the nets were an outdated and ineffective technology.
"This has to be the last meshing season," she said.
"We cannot afford to keep losing grey nurse sharks, marine turtles and rays in such numbers every year if we want to see these species survive in the long term."
Smart drumlines may be trialled in Western Australia
Meanwhile, Mr Blair has offered to lend Western Australia some of its smart drumlines to allow a trial to go ahead there.
"This is 2018. We shouldn't be afraid to look at new technologies and new ways to address this issue," he said.
Smart drumlines allow animals to be tagged and released (photo: DPI)
Western Australian surfer and South West Safe Shark group committee member Keith Halnan said the WA surfing community was still on edge after the cancellation of the 2018 Margaret River Pro.
The event was abandoned mid-tournament following two shark attacks on recreational surfers, and fears for safety voiced on social media by high-profile Brazilian competitors Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira.
Mr Halnan said the Western Australian surfing community was largely supportive of the deployment of smart drumlines, because they would give beachgoers and tourists much-needed peace of mind following a "horror run" of sightings, near misses and attacks.
"There's a perception every time there is an attack that Western Australia isn't safe due to the shark problem we have," Mr Halnan said.
"We are in communication with surfers from the east coast who have access to data from the smart drumlines and they all report they are working, both in stopping further attacks and giving everyone that confidence to get back into the water."
Mr Halnan said WA's surfing community had not embraced the WA Government's offer of rebates for either of the two approved personal protection devices on the market.
"The vast majority of the surfing community over here is simply not sold on those products, and there isn't actually a model available suitable for young children," he said.
"People just don't feel safe on our beaches and I don't think the perception will change if the current policy continues."
Government dubious about whether drumlines reduce attack
WA Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said the Western Australian Government remained open to any new shark mitigation measures that had been scientifically proven.
"There is currently no scientific evidence to show that these drumlines reduce the risk of an attack," he said.
"The WA Government has made repeated requests to the NSW Government for them to share their drumline trial data, particularly what happens to the sharks when they are towed out to sea, so a scientific evaluation can occur.
"We really have to ask ourselves, do we want to pay tens of millions of dollars for hundreds of baited hooks to be placed up and down our coast, when there is no scientific evidence to show that these drumlines reduce the risk of attack?"
Mr Kelly said the WA Government had invested in a range of shark mitigation strategies for the WA coast to help protect beach users.
// Bruce MacKenzie and Anthony Pancia
© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.