'What are we waiting for?' Experts warn Qld shark-control strategy is outdated
Marine experts warn Queensland's almost 60-year-old shark-control program is "outdated" and fails to protect the growing numbers of swimmers entering Gold Coast waters.
It comes as New South Wales pumps millions of dollars into pilot programs to reduce the incidence of shark encounters with humans.
Olaf Meynecke of Griffith University said the Queensland government was trailing behind its NSW counterpart, which was investing in "world-first" technologies to mitigate shark bites.
He warned that unless safety measures were improved, there would likely be an increase in shark bites in Queensland waters as the Gold Coast's population was predicted to double by 2041.
But Queensland Fisheries Minister Mark Furner is standing by the state's existing program, which dates back to 1962, saying he will not make changes to it until alternatives "supported by science" are available in the Sunshine State.
His comment comes years after the government's own scientific working group suggested changes to the Queensland shark-control program.
Massive funding for beach next door
Last week, the NSW government announced $21.4 million for the "world's largest shark-management program".
A raft of "effective, evidence-based" technologies, including a beefed-up shark-spotting drone program and an expansion of SMART drumlines, will stretch from the Bega Valley to the Tweed.
"I find it quite unfortunate that here in Queensland we are not seeing any of those changes implemented," Dr Meynecke said.
"It has always been argued that Queensland is waiting for NSW to demonstrate the success of some of those programs, and the success is clearly there."
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Furner said his department was "committed to continual improvement" but said science-based changes were contingent on "effective alternatives suitable to Queensland conditions".
He said NSW's new shark-control measures had "no impact or effect" on Queensland's program.
The Queensland government has committed $1 million a year for four years to conduct various trials, including trialling drones in three coastal regions and assessing other deterrents such as catch-alert drumlines.
It currently spends about $10.3 million on its existing nets and drumlines program.
More risk as population swells
With migration to seaside regions booming, Dr Meynecke fears there will be more shark bites as increasing numbers of people take to the water.
"Statistically the chance of shark encounter increases," he said.
Dr Meynecke says the best move for Queensland would be to start trialling SMART drumlines in place of shark nets off the Gold and Sunshine coasts.
"We can't rely on nets being put in the ocean sometime in the 1960s — that is a very outdated method — just hoping that a shark randomly swims into one of those nets and is removed from the water," he said.
"There is never 100 per cent safety, but there is enough evidence that shark nets are not actually helping us protect beach-goers, but there are other ways we can definitely make it a bit safer.
"All there is is hope that there will be change coming soon."
Mr Furner did not respond to the ABC's questions about when the trials would be completed or if the Queensland program was suitable for a population increase.
No changes to current program
Mr Furner told the ABC the government had no plan to remove shark nets or drumlines from Queensland waters.
Dr Meynecke says he expects the program, which is under ongoing public scrutiny due to its lethal nature, is here to stay.
"From what I understand, the call is that there will be no changes in the coming years," he said.
"I am not quite sure [why], what are we waiting for?"
A Senate committee report handed down in 2017 concluded shark nets were ineffective in stopping shark bites, and suggested the state adopt "emerging technologies" in conjunction with a shark alert app.
Since 2019, the Queensland government's own scientific working group voiced its support to replace some nets with drumlines during the whale migration season.
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