The End of Shark Culling in the Great Barrier Reef - A Year On

By : Humane Society International March 8, 2021

Humane Society International (HSI) is today giving a progress report on the Queensland Government's implementation of a court order to end the culling of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) showing too many sharks are still dying in what is meant to be a non-lethal program. This follows the charity's 2019 court victory at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The organisation reports that while "some progress has been made”, Queensland "needs to do better” to comply with the court orders.   

The orders issued by the AAT required the Shark Control Program to be carried out "in a manner that avoids, to the greatest extent possible, the lethal take of shark.” They require the baited drumlines to be checked "preferably every 24 hours” to reduce the time hooked sharks are left on the drumlines, thereby increasing the chance of survival. It also mandated a trial of SMART drumlines, a non-lethal version of traditional drumlines. The Queensland Government began implementing the orders from February 2020. 

Analysing publicly available catch data from February to December 2020, HSI has found that less tiger sharks are being killed, but mortality rates for smaller sharks remain high, with 137 out of 178 sharks caught, still dying in the 'non-lethal' program[1].   

"Tiger sharks have begun to benefit from the new management procedures but other shark species have found less relief,” said Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist with HSI"Where once all tiger sharks found alive on the lines were shot and killed, those found alive are now being tagged and relocated offshore. Nevertheless, approximately 50% of tiger sharks hooked are still dying.”  

"The east coast tiger shark population has declined by 74% over the last 50 years[2] meaning reducing their mortality rate further is critical. HSI is concerned that 23 tiger sharks hooked still died since the orders came into effect and that the mortality rates for smaller sharks remain high”. 

"The high shark mortality rates can be addressed by checking the drumlines more frequently, so that more hooked animals can be released, gear modifications, and trialling modern non-lethal technologies to replace the lethal drumlines. The AAT ordered a trial of SMART drumlines which are a non-lethal form of drumline that enable prompt release of hooked animals, said Mr Chlebeck.   

While the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has increased the frequency of checking the drumlines from 182 to 260 days per year, they have not required contractors to aim for daily checking and they have yet to implement a SMART drumline trial. 

Non-lethal alternatives to drumlines include education, drone surveillance and personal shark deterrents. Using such methods in tandem would provide state-of-art shark risk reduction measures for tourism operators in the GBRMPA, building confidence for tourists coming to Queensland—especially important during this Covid recovery period. 

"This court case was decided on the scientifically-backed premise that shark culling does not reduce the risk of shark bite. Humane Society International expects to see further progress to properly implement the court orders so that the people of Queensland are better protected with modern shark management and an end to the unnecessary death of marine wildlife.” concluded Mr Chlebeck

Great Barrier Reef Shark Control Program Catch  - Feb to Dec 2020 (Post-judgement)

Species

Total

Killed 

Released Alive

Australian sharpnose shark

2

2

0

Australian blacktip

1

1

0

Blacktip reef whaler

10

9

1

Bull whaler

50

47

3

Common blacktip whaler

4

4

0

Dusky whaler

1

1

0

Great hammerhead

1

1

0

'Hammerhead shark'

1

1

0

Longnose whaler

3

3

0

Pigeye whaler

2

2

0

Sandbar whaler

1

0

1

Scalloped hammerhead

1

1

0

Sharptooth shark

4

3

1

Spot-tail whaler

27

27

0

Tawny shark

17

12

5

Tiger shark

52

23

29

Zebra shark

1

0

1

TOTAL

178

137

41

[1] https://www.data.qld.gov.au/dataset/qld-shark-control-program-catch-statistics-great-barrier-reef-marine-park

[2] Roff G, Brown CJ, Priest MA, Mumby PJ. (2018) Decline of coastal apex shark populations over the past half century. Communications Biology. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-018-0233-1

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