Shark net fallacy
In light of the recent deaths of two critically endangered grey nurse sharks in a NSW shark net, Humane Society International (HSI) is outraged that NSW Nationals leader, Andrew Stoner, has continued to support their use today in The Australian, erroneously saying that the Labor Government has moved too far to protect marine creatures over humans.
In actual fact, despite the demise of grey nurse sharks and other endangered species that are regularly caught as bycatch in these nets, the NSW Government has failed to enact even the most basic recommendations, such as prohibiting the bottom-setting of the nets where they ensnare harmless bottom-dwelling species, to reduce the non-target death toll. The NSW Government is aware of the death toll inflicted by these nets on hundreds of harmless animals every year. It is not uncommon for turtles, dolphins or even whales to become entangled or killed in these nets. Yet these statistics are ignored in favour of maintaining the pretence that these nets protect the public.
“The average beach-goer is unaware that the nets do not form a conclusive barrier between the sharks and the swimming public,” said Rebecca Keeble, HSI’s Program Manager. “They were never designed with that intention. Not only are these nets removed from the water from May to August each year, but they each only extend 150 m and are periodically moved between beaches. It is a well known fact that 40% of shark entanglements actually occur on the beach side of the nets because sharks are able to swim over and around them; hardly a statistic that would be comforting to the public who are being misled into believing that they are ‘protected’ from sharks by these nets.“
The perception that the use of shark nets equates to a lack of fatalities and serious attacks on Sydney’s surf beaches ignores the fact that over 1,300 km of NSW coastline is unmeshed, and yet attack rates are miniscule. The NSW Government must take steps to ensure that the public is well-informed about the actual deployment of these nets so they can appreciate the massive impact they are having on endangered species and make an educated decision on their swimming habits.
“The Government is obviously cautious about removing the nets due to public safety concerns,” said Ms Keeble. “However, given the public’s misconceptions about the beach meshing program, they need to consider how they will explain a fatality if one was to occur where bathers believe they are being protected.”
As a result of a HSI nomination, shark nets are formally recognised in NSW legislation as a key threatening process to threatened species, particularly for their impact on the critically endangered grey nurse shark east coast population. In addition to the most recent death of a pregnant female this week, Sydney’s beach nets have killed 3 breeding female grey nurse sharks in the last 3 years With as few as 500 individuals believed to be left on the east coast, the loss of even one female is detrimental to this species’ survival prospects. HSI is seeking legal advice into options available for a program that knowingly takes endangered species.