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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Shark nets to be trialled again on New South Wales north coast beaches

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State government will also deploy nets at 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle despite reports of damage to other marine life

Shark nets will again be deployed on the New South Wales north coast, despite environmentalists warning they are killing an unacceptable number of dolphins, turtles and endangered sharks.

Nets have regularly been used off 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle, but last year the state government trialled them further north, at five beaches near Ballina and Evans Head.

The results of the trial are not yet public, but on Friday the state government announced it would run the trial again, from 1 November.

It will also again deploy the 51 sunk nets – which sit below the surface in about 10 to 12 metres of water, within 500 metres of the shore – at Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle beaches from Friday until 30 April.

But critics of shark nets say they cause an unacceptable level of damage to other marine life.

Last season, 279 of the 373 marine animals caught in the nets were not dangerous sharks. Fifty-six were endangered or vulnerable marine species.

The nets caught 98 largely harmless and non-targeted sharks, 165 rays, five marine mammals and 10 marine reptiles.

Six critically endangered and harmless grey nurse sharks – described as the “labradors of the sea” – were killed by the nets.

The nets killed 74 target sharks, including dusky whaler, shortfin mako bull, white and tiger sharks.

The head of campaigns at Humane Society International, Nicola Beynon, said the decision to hold a second trial flew in the face of evidence showing the nets were not only devastating to marine life, but also ineffective at stopping target sharks.

Beynon criticised the minister for ignoring his own government’s evidence, and said the decision appeared to pander to pressure from the media.

“It’s because the minister is allowing the Daily Telegraph to dictate public policy, that’s why,” she told Guardian Australia.

“The West Australian government is taking a much more sensible and effective approach to the issue – they are looking at that effective technology which doesn’t cause those huge problems for marine life.

“That’s the way a government – a responsible, modern government – should be dealing with the problem today.”

Only one fatal attack has occurred at a meshed beach since 1937, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industry.

Shark nets to be trialled again on New South Wales north coast beaches
Maps showing the approximate locations of the nets and Smart drum lines. Illustration: Department of Primary Industries

Proponents of shark nets say the statistic demonstrates their effectiveness, although environmentalists say the general risk of a fatal shark attack is too low to draw such a conclusion.

Critics of shark nets say they should be replaced with more effective, targeted and non-lethal technology.

The state government already uses Smart drum lines in northern NSW, which temporarily catch sharks and alert a response team, which then tags and relocates the animal.

According to the NSW government, last year’s trial on the northern beaches showed the drumlines were much more effective at capturing dangerous target sharks without causing the loss of marine life.

The state is also trialling drone surveillance, sonar “clever buoys”, and a combination of shark tagging and monitoring.

But only 25 Smart drumlines are in use in the state, while drone surveillance, smart barriers and clever buoys have not made it out of trial phase.

The primary industries minister, Niall Blair, said adjustments would be made to the nets to “attempt to minimise by-catch numbers”.

Blair said they would be fitted with dolphin “pingers” and whale alarms. He said the second trial was needed to gather more evidence about the nets and the drumlines.

“During the six-month trial we tested both nets and Smart drumlines, and while the drumlines proved more effective at catching ‘target’ sharks, a further trial will provide more evidence of the nets’ effectiveness and allow us to address some of the issues raised,” he said.

“The results from the first trial showed that the community felt safer, however they remain concerned by the amount of by-catch.”

The Greens want to see the non-lethal technology expanded and the use of nets ended.

The Greens marine spokesman, Justin Field, said the trial of Smart drumlines on the northern NSW beaches showed they were far more effective at catching target sharks.

“The trial makes a compelling case for the government to remove shark nets permanently from NSW’s beaches,” he said.

Online Source: The Guardian

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