NSW MP Calls To Adopt WA's Rebate For Personal Shark Deterrents
For five years, the Western Australian government has provided a $200 rebate for ocean users who buy select shark deterrent devices. When it was first introduced very few users took up the offer - just over 600 in the first year, only 10 of whom came from the Margaret River, Yallingup, and Dunsborough area.
Yet when the rebate was broadened to include surf specific devices, such as Rpela and Ocean Guardian's FREEDOM+ Surf, the uptake increased and is now approaching 8,000.
With the issue of shark nets back on the agenda, a Sydney MP wants the NSW government to copy WA's lead.
A New South Wales MP is urging the state government to create a personal shark deterrent device rebate scheme and remove shark nets from the state's beaches.
Heathcote MP Lee Evans has used a notice of motion in parliament to call for the adoption of a model similar to the $200 rebate offered in Western Australia.
Mr Evans's seat on the southern fringe of Sydney is set to shift significantly further south in the electoral boundary redistribution into northern Wollongong, where the council is leading a push to remove the nets.
"My issue is that so many creatures are caught up in the nets as a bycatch and great whites swim by with impunity," Mr Evans said. "I am very concerned that we are killing off sea turtles, rays, other sharks that aren't meant to be caught."
The most recent report on the state's shark meshing program found a total of 376 marine animals caught in nets. 51 were target sharks, including 28 white sharks, 12 bull sharks and 11 tiger sharks.
The 325 remaining were non-target animals, including grey nurse sharks, 130 rays, 40 turtles, one dolphin and one humpback whale.
Mr Evans urged the government to divert the money it spent on the nets into a rebate scheme for personal deterrent devices.
"Western Australia basically said, 'Right we are not going to net anymore,' and they did a 50/50 split with people who wanted to buy these devices," he said.
In a statement, the WA government said the scheme provided a number of options, including "two scientifically proven device options — the Ocean Guardian FREEDOM+ Surf (bundle) and the Ocean Guardian FREEDOM7".
"The scheme was introduced in May 2017 for the Ocean Guardian Freedom7 (dive product), the Ocean Guardian FREEDOM+ Surf (Bundle) was added the following year in 2018," the statement said. "In March this year a third option was added, the WA manufactured Rpela v2 surf device.
"As of 12 October, 7,844 rebates have been claimed to purchase a device."
'Bite mitigation' and 'personal devices'
The NSW government made its response to the Cardno report it commissioned into shark protection public in August. It includes support for recommendations to fund research into personal protection devices.
"The shark program continues to undertake, or supports, further research and monitoring (ie data gathering, analysis and reporting) of current area-based bite mitigation systems and trialling of emerging area-based bite mitigation systems and personal devices," the government said.
Ocean Guardian chief executive Lindsay Lyon met with Lee Evans, Terrigal MP Adam Crouch, and Environment Minister James Griffith in NSW parliament last week. Primary Industries Minister Dugald Saunders was unable to meet with Mr Lyon.
"What I am trying to do is educate them," Mr Lyon said. "To say to them, if you are under pressure to remove shark nets, drum lines, to remove the bycatch, the single biggest impact you can have is to offer personal protection to those most at risk, which is surfers and divers."
Mr Lyons said the Ocean Guardian device created a powerful electric field that caused the receptors in a shark's snout to spasm and turn it away. He said the devices had been tested by Flinders University using grant money from the NSW government.
Mr Lyons said he believed the next step for Australia was the development of a product standard "the same as we have for bicycle helmets and life jackets".
"We are working on that," he said. "It would give consumers and government confidence and give the ACCC something to work with."
Australian Marine Conservation Society's Leonardo Guida, who opposed the use of shark nets, said the group would support evidence-based, non-lethal approaches to modernising beach safety.
"It is crucial that consumers are made aware and informed of products that are independently and scientifically tested for their efficacy at deterring sharks," Dr Guida said. "Beach users choosing products that have not been independently and scientifically tested may unwittingly take risks they otherwise wouldn't."
'Fairly happy' with existing options
Mr Saunders said he was aware of the technology, but said Mr Lee had not contacted him with the request.
"I'm not prepared to say we would definitely back in a rebate," Mr Saunders said. "I think there are some more discussions to be had, but we have helped through DPI incentives and research on the devices."
Mr Saunders indicated he was happy to "look at" what the WA government had done, but said NSW's $85-million investment in shark mitigation over the next five years was "world-leading". "At the moment I am fairly happy with the options we have," he said.
Mr Saunders said in addition to the 51 beaches with shark nets, the government was also using more than 300 drum lines, 37 shark listening stations, drones and the SharkSmart app. He said he wanted councils with shark nets to ask beachgoers if they want the nets removed.
"Not just their communities — all beach users," Mr Saunders said.
"You can capture that digitally or with a clipboard, if you are doing that — that is a fair dinkum survey of community want.
"Just having councillors make a decision is pretty simplistic."
// KELLY FULLER
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