Shark nets take toll on threatened species

·3-min read

The federal government is under pressure to end the "indiscriminate death" caused by shark nets after a new report found threatened species accounted for almost a quarter of what was caught in NSW.

Conservationists are appalled after the NSW government revealed target shark species accounted for just 13.5 per cent of everything trapped in the state's nets last season.

And threatened species accounted for 22 per cent of the 376 animals caught.

They included 14 critically endangered grey nurse sharks, 19 vulnerable green turtles, 16 endangered leatherback turtles, and four endangered loggerhead turtles.

More than 60 per cent of everything that was ensnared died despite routine patrols set up to assist with live releases.

Catches of green and leatherback turtles were high enough to trip a trigger point about the program's stated ambitions to minimise impacts for non-target and threatened species.

The Department of Primary Industries must now prepare a report on what happened and report back within six months.

In all, the nets only caught 51 individuals from the three target species: white, bull and tiger sharks.

Federal Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson chaired a 2017 Senate inquiry into Australia's shark mitigation and deterrent measures. It recommended a phase-out of nets in the absence of evidence to show they reduce the risk of shark attacks.

He says shark nets, used only in NSW and Queensland, are exempt from federal environment laws but Labor's new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has an opportunity to change that in her promised legislative review.

"There's no way they'd be acceptable if our laws were applied to those (netted) beaches, like they are to the rest of our country.

"If those exemptions can be retrospectively removed then there'll be no excuse to keep them in place. That would be game changer and we'll certainly be proposing that to the government."

The new data comes a week after the release of the five-yearly State of the Environment report that detailed the persistent rise in the number of threatened species.

Conservation groups Humane Society International Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society say it's time for NSW to get its 51 nets out of the water.

They say the eight councils with nets off their beaches have revoked support for the devices and want to shift to a modern approach reliant on drone surveillance, personal shark deterrents, and education programs.

The NSW government says it's committed to using the latest technology available, and to striving for the right balance to keep swimmers safe and protect vulnerable marine species.

"As part of the 2022-2023 budget, the NSW government announced $85 million to fund a range of new shark mitigation activities including Smart drum lines, tagging and listening stations as well as funding for long range drones.

"The Shark Meshing (netting) Program is actively managed to minimise the impact on marine animals while protecting swimmers at some of NSW's most popular beaches."

The NSW report detailed one shark-human interaction at a netted beach during the last season - a surfer who wasn't hurt after he was bumped by an unidentified shark at Maroubra Beach in March.

It noted there were seven verified shark-human incidents at NSW beaches that weren't netted. They included three that were close to netted beaches.

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