– By Meg Lamb
In September the NSW Government rolled out its second shark net trial across 51 beaches from Wollongong to Newcastle. This follows a controversial six-month trial that took place from December 2016 to May 2017. The trials are an addition to the long standing Sydney netting program, bringing the total number of shark nets in NSW up to 56.
The Management Plan for NSW’s shark net trial was supposedly designed to protect the public from certain sharks, including White Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks. While concern for public safety is undoubtedly important, this trial flies in the face of a considerable amount of evidence, which demonstrates shark nets do not work to stop shark attacks. In fact, they don’t necessarily catch sharks at all.
The government is essentially using150m long, 6m deep fishing nets suspended 200m from shore, approx.10m from the surface. This means the nets don’t create an enclosed area protecting beach goers from sharks, and humans can still face encounters.
But the nets are successful at trapping a significant amount of by-catch, including many protected or threatened species such as turtles and dolphins – which pose no threat to humans. Only 9 target sharks were caught from a total of 275 animals (3% of the total catch) in the first trial earlier this year. Sadly, only 10 of the 275 captured animals were released alive.
Given there are more effective measures available to keep people safe from shark attacks and reduce the loss of other marine life, it remains unclear why the NSW Government is running a second trial. Especially when it continues to undermine proper environmental assessment processes, and allows the lawful killing of protected animals.
Ordinarily it is an offence under both NSW and national environmental laws to harm protected marine species, and an environmental assessment is required when any activity is likely to have a significant impact on the environment, such as shark netting. In 2016 however, the Australian Government exercised a rarely used power under federal law to bypass the environmental assessment process required under state laws. This allowed NSW Parliament to introduce special laws authorising the first shark netting trial.
The controversial trial continues to operate under an exemption to federal laws, endangering the lives of hundreds of animals, and eroding public confidence in Government decision-making processes.
The NSW Government has the opportunity to lead the way in developing measures to allow its community to safely co-exist with sharks. Everyone would be better off if this futile second trial was abandoned, and the focus was shifted towards developing and investing in non-lethal programs – including education and awareness – to minimise the threat of shark attacks.