Why we need to stop the shark nets killing record numbers of critically endangered species
Humane Society International (HSI) has called on the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt to assess and review the NSW Shark Meshing (Beach Protection) Program under Commonwealth environment protection legislation. This has been prompted by the deaths of 11 nationally listed critically endangered Grey Nurse Sharks in the beach nets since 2011; a concerning number, given that the entire Australian East Coast population of Grey Nurse Sharks may be as small as a thousand individuals.
The immense impacts which shark nets have on nature needs to be assessed at a national level. The nets are supposed to work by reducing the population of dangerous sharks near the shore. However, they are indiscriminate in what they catch and thousands of other animals, many endangered, are caught in the nets, including dolphins, turtles, rays and non-dangerous sharks, such as the critically endangered Grey Nurse Shark. NSW law recognises this threat to wildlife.
At a time when beach netting should be wound back and alternatives seriously trialled, HSI is very concerned to hear the suggestion made by the Member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis MP to extend the netting program to Ballina and Byron Bay. These are areas where there is a high diversity of marine life, recognised in the marine park at Byron Bay, and where Grey Nurse Sharks migrate between key aggregation sites at Julian Rocks off Byron Bay and North Solitary Island off Coffs Harbour.
There is much that can be done to reduce the risk of shark attack, including avoiding surfing near the mouth of the Richmond River estuary after periods of heavy rainfall. While HSI acknowledges that human safety is paramount, the fact is that humans have hunted sharks to the point where many species are threatened with extinction and shark attack on humans remains a rare occurrence. Surfers and swimmers must acknowledge that there are risks using the ocean.
HSI director Michael Kennedy said, “The shark meshing program is an outdated policy from the 1930’s which indiscriminately kills many marine species in order to deplete populations of sharks. The threat of being attacked by a shark is very small and certainly does not justify the disastrous impact this program has on marine species, particularly non-target species such as the Grey Nurse Shark. Every breeding individual is important for the survival of this shark.”
“The fact that eleven grey nurses were killed in shark nets over a four year period means the program needs urgent assessment by the Federal Government lest it contribute to the eventual extinction of the Grey Nurse Shark on the east coast,” Mr Kennedy concluded.