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Shark nets killing endangered species

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Conservation groups argue shark nets are a threat to endangered marine life and are "outdated". What are the alternatives?
shark nets endangered

More than 90% of animals caught in NSW shark nets are ‘non-target species” (including endangered animals) according to Department of Primary Industries (DPI) data. The data shows these shark nets are frequently killing these endangered species.

Shark nets target white, tiger, and bull sharks. Other animals caught in nets are called ‘non-target’ species or ‘by-catch’.

Data accessed by Humane Society International (HSI) – an animal welfare agency – shows turtles and dolphins were among hundreds of non-target animals caught in NSW nets over the summer.

It’s prompted fresh calls to ban shark nets in NSW.

Background

In NSW, shark nets are used at over 50 beaches from September to April.

They are managed by the DPI — a government agency responsible for the state’s fisheries and regulation of animal welfare.

Nets (also called ‘shark meshing’) were first introduced in NSW in 1937, as a way to limit dangerous shark interactions with humans.

However, they don’t completely block sharks from accessing beaches.

Shark nets

Shark nets used in NSW are:

  • 150 metres wide
  • 6m deep
  • Set 4m below the surface
  • Placed within 500m of the shore.

There were four fatal shark bites in Australia in 2023, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

NSW did not record any deaths last year.

Findings

DPI data accessed by HSI identified 208 non-target catches during the 2023/24 NSW net season. This included 134 animal deaths.

Non-target animal deaths included:

  • Five critically endangered grey nurse sharks (estimated 2,000 left on the east coast)
  • Four endangered leatherback turtles (estimated 2,300 adult females remain in the Pacific)
  • One endangered loggerhead turtle (estimated 500 females remain in the south Pacific)

9 in 10 animals caught by shark nets from September 2023 to April 2024 in NSW were not sharks.

Call to ban nets

HSI and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) have urged the NSW Government to discontinue its use of shark nets.

Moreover, they argue the nets are a threat to endangered marine life and an “outdated” way to keep beachgoers safe from predator sharks.

So, what are the alternatives?

Alternatives

AMCS called for the state to move towards newer shark tracking technologies instead of relying on nets for the 2024/25 season.

ACMS shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said “modern alternatives” to nets that don’t have “the horrific bycatch numbers” have been successfully rolled out after “more than a decade of development”.

One example is SMART drumlines. What are they?

SharkSmart

SMART (Shark-Management-Alert-in-Real-Time) drumlines are baited buoys set around 500 metres from the shore.

When a shark eats the bait it triggers an alert. A team responds within 30 minutes to tag the shark with a tracker and relocate it away from the beach. Swimmers can see updated tracking information about the movements of tagged sharks in their area, via the SharkSmart app.

Under the NSW SharkSmart program, over 300 SMART drumlines have been set up.

Response

NSW Liberal MP Adam Crouch proposed removing nets in his Central Coast electorate on a trial basis but told TDA the government was “not willing” to provide additional SMART drumlines to the area.

“When you look at marine animals like dolphins getting tangled in shark nets, there is a 0% survival rate as shown in last year’s Shark Meshing Performance Report,” Crouch said.

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