Commentary by NSW Apex Coordinator – Allyson Jennings

On Tuesday October 12th 2016, Premier Mike Baird announced that the popular northern New South Wales beach holiday destination of Ballina will have shark meshing installed off its beaches for 6 months. This is subject to federal government approval from Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg who has stated previously that he would consider supporting such moves to protect human lives first.

Ballina's resident dolphins. Photo: Dr Liz Hawkins, Dolphin Research AustraliaBallina's resident dolphins. Photo: Dr Liz Hawkins, Dolphin Research Australia

This is a sad and disappointing announcement from the Premier given he had previously stated that nets would not be an option in the region. Ballina, like nearby Byron Bay and Lennox Head is an aquatic paradise for all those who seek to enjoy the water but also the incredible diversity of life which exists in the ocean. Ballina is home to a large resident pod of approximately 60 dolphins, which will suffer high fatality numbers as a result of the meshing. NSW DPI’s own Chief Shark Scientist Vic Peddemors stated last week that at least 20 dolphins would be killed within weeks of the nets being put in on the North Coast. Dr Liz Hawkins from Dolphin Research Australia also said that Lighthouse Beach is an important area for local bottlenose mothers and calves to feed, rest and socialise and would be highly impacted with the installation of shark nets.

This decision is extremely short sighted and with no real consideration to the eventual ramifications these nets will have on local tourism and the ocean ecosystem. Who would want to visit a holiday destination knowing they kill the amazing wildlife, which many people want to see?

In addition to dolphins and various shark species, other marine life such as turtles, rays including giant manta rays, blue gropers, leopard sharks and many more will disappear from this diverse and healthy marine ecosystem. This coastline is also on the migratory pathway of critically endangered grey nurse sharks with the closest aggregation at Julian Rocks off Byron Bay.

Sea Shepherd also questions the rationale behind this decision given that tax payer funded sharks tagged by NSW Department of Primary Industries will inevitably be caught in these nets. The tagged sharks include great white sharks which are protected on a state, federal and international level.

This appears to be an obscene waste of tax payer money to tag sharks only to allow them to become victims in an archaic meshing program. What is the point of research if you intentionally kill off your source?

This same activity was seen in Western Australia during the cull with tagged tiger sharks being hooked on drum lines set by WA Fisheries, with many suffering immediate fatal injuries or post hooking mortality.

The key factor in all of this is that the meshing provides nothing more than a false sense of security for all who use the ocean. The nets are not barriers, they do not cover an entire beach, nor are they from top to bottom of the water column (generally in 12m of water, 4 to 6 metre gap at the top), and they do nothing for public safety. They are merely fishing devices and indiscriminate killers. Animals can swim under, around and over the nets. It is baffling how the NSW Government has continued to support the nets well knowing that it is highly likely that they will not stop another potential human-shark incident and are merely attempting to be seen to be doing something rather than considering the best and right options for ocean user safety.

Shark net diagramShark net diagram (Wikipedia)

Premier Baird has previously commented that decisions made around this issue are based on science not emotion.

However, all this decision regarding nets highlights is that the NSW Government is willing to cater to a vocal minority of north coast locals not the majority of ocean users who accept the risks they take entering a natural wild environment like our ocean.

Sea Shepherd strongly condemns this decision and requests that the NSW Government reconsiders before it is too late to stop the environmental carnage and significant tourism impact, which will follow once the nets are installed.

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