Drum lines keep State safe
Jeff Krause. Picture: The West Australian/Lincoln Baker

For just over half a century Queensland fishermen have been carrying out the very practices now dividing the WA community.

More than 350 yellow buoys sit about 400m off 85 of the State's most popular beaches and are connected to baited drum lines which, with shark nets, have caught between 500 and 700 sharks a year since 1962.

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While the introduction of drum lines in WA has been the subject of death threats, vandalism and fierce debate, they are "part of the furniture" in Queensland, according to the State's deputy director-general of Fisheries and Forestry, Scott Spencer.

"You can stand on most south-eastern Queensland beaches and see the buoys. People know what they are and move on," he said.

"We don't get a lot of people raising the issue. It's apparently working and it's been such a long-lived program."

A series of fatal attacks, including two in 1961, led to the introduction of the drum lines and shark nets in Queensland in 1962.

Since then there has been only one fatal attack at a beach featuring the equipment, when 21-year-old Sarah Whiley was killed by a bull shark at Amity Point in 2006.

Miss Whiley had been swimming in a deep, tidal channel considered a "favoured area for bull sharks".

Queensland's shark control program manager Jeff Krause said the program caught sharks 2m and over and had been a success over the past 50 years, but it was not failsafe.

He said the drum lines and shark nets, the latter of which will not be operating in WA, had two main benefits.

"If you remove some of the larger sharks out of the water, they are the ones that inflict fatal or serious injury and there's more natural food source for the remaining sharks to consume so it takes their desire or predation away from humans," he said.

Like WA Premier Colin Barnett, he denied the strategy amounted to a cull, saying the drum lines and shark nets covered just 35km of Queensland's 7500km coastline.

Bull sharks and tiger sharks have been responsible for most of the 82 fatal attacks in Queensland since 1791 and account for most sharks killed in the nets and on drum lines.

But dozens of great whites have also been killed, including six last year, because the Queensland Fisheries Department has a Great Barrier Reef Authority permit allowing it to catch and kill the protected species.

Once caught, the sharks usually drown or are euthanased with a knife to the brain by one of the 10 contractors employed to monitor the equipment. The carcasses are disposed of 5km offshore.

The program has not been without its controversies in Queensland. Last year, a contractor hauled in a 700kg, 5m tiger shark that was pregnant, causing a furore and resulting in threats to the fishermen involved.

In response to concerns the drum lines would attract sharks closer to shore, Mr Krause said they attracted only those that were already in a 3-5km radius and were, therefore, a risk.

"They are taking the sharks away from the bathers," he said.

"A shark will pick up the activity of swimmers' electrical energy and it will sense the bait plume and go for that. It's the stronger instinctual target."

Queensland Fisheries Minister John McVeigh said the longevity of the program was a good indicator that it had the support of most Queenslanders.

"Queenslanders want to be able to enjoy swimming at our beaches and we are doing what we can to help them safely do so," he said.

"From time to time there are calls from some people to remove shark nets or drum lines from our beaches, but human safety must come first and that's why we're committed to this program."

While shark sightings and beach closures are a daily prospect for WA surf lifesavers, it is a different situation for Gold Coast Council lifeguards David Orchards and Josh Caldwell. "We see them very seldom. Sharks are very rare," Mr Orchards said.

Mr Caldwell said the drum lines and nets gave peace of mind to locals and tourists.

In Surfers Paradise, Go Ride A Wave surf school owner Sam Rollinson described the shark safety measures as a "safety blanket".

"As a surfer, it doesn't bother me if they're there or not, but as a business owner it's good for tourism," he said.

"I've heard surf schools have gone broke over there (in WA). One shark attack here and that could happen to us."

Mr Krause said there would always be opposition to killing sharks but he firmly believed the drum lines were keeping beachgoers safe.

"I'm surprised and disgusted at the extent that they (protesters in WA) are prepared to threaten and vandalise," he said, referring to the threats that prompted at least one contractor to withdraw from the tender process in WA.

"Everyone has got their opinion and they are entitled to it and I understand that people say it's the sharks' domain, but I also understand the senseless waste of human life and we have the capability to reduce that risk."

The West Australian

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