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shark management

WA shark mitigation strategy is well over due

20 April 2018

Senator Dean Smith


How many lives will it take for the WA Labor Government to act?

It has been exactly one year since I wrote in this paper about the need for a more detailed examination of all the shark mitigation measures available to us. I was writing as a WA Senator and a member of the Senate committee conducting an inquiry into shark mitigation. It was just days after a shark attack claimed the life of 17-year-old Laeticia Brouwer.

And what has changed since then?

While I have continued my advocacy alongside my state Liberal colleagues, the State Government’s primary focus in their shark mitigation strategy has remained on providing subsidies for personal shark deterrents, which are not suitable for all beach goers. Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly dismissed my call earlier this year to examine the NSW SMART drumline trials as ‘reckless fearmongering.’

Mr Kelly has also gone on record to insist that WA beachgoers are at no more risk of shark attack than people on the east coast, despite a landmark CSIRO report which found that WA’s coast has twice the number of great white sharks – not to mention the climbing death toll in WA.

Instead of taking action, the Labor Government has chosen to do the bidding of environmental extremists who seemingly place the lives of fish above both humans and common sense.

Meanwhile, two people were attacked by a shark on Monday, one of whom is still in hospital following surgery on both legs. The attacks directly led to the World Surf League’s decision to cancel the remainder of the Margaret River Pro surfing competition – a decision that will likely have a devastating impact on tourism and local businesses.

News of the attacks have spread around the world and at least one Brazilian competitor at the Margaret River competition took to social media to say that he didn’t feel comfortable training and competing in the area.

Granted, the State Government seems to have shifted its hardline stance against the use of drumlines somewhat following Monday’s attacks, with Acting Fisheries Minister Roger Cook saying the government will now consider the results of the NSW trials. I congratulate Minister Cook’s rare flash of common sense on this issue.

However, while I welcome this development, I have not been fooled into thinking that this is what action looks like.

The fact is that NSW is on its second round of SMART drumline trials following the resounding success of the first trial.

From December 2016 to December 2017, 235 target sharks were caught, including 216 white pointers. All but one were released alive, and according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, once tagged, those sharks generally stayed in deeper offshore waters for up to a month.

Unlike traditional drumlines, SMART drumlines are not designed to kill target species and they successfully limit the risk to bycatch while still affording swimmers and surfers protection. They can also be used as an important research tool to better understand the movements and distribution of sharks.

With results like this, there should be no need for the WA State Government to insist that they need to wait for further trials to be completed in NSW. There is nothing stopping them from initiating their own trials here in WA, and the plea for more time and research seems like nothing more than a delaying tactic. As does Mr Cook’s statement on Wednesday that the Federal Government should provide funding for drumline trials.

Not only is it up to state governments to be proactive in their shark mitigation strategies, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has been encouraging the WA Government to utilise SMART drumlines for more than a year.

The Labor line in 2017 had nothing to do with money. Instead, Mr Kelly insisted drumlines and nets just didn’t work. But that excuse never washed, and neither do the new ones.

It is time for the State Government to take action now. It was shameful that they have waited this long, and it will be even more so if they wait any longer.

- Senator Linda Reynolds, Liberal Senator for Western Australia