The NSW State Government is looking at adopting a range of new scientifically-based measures as part of its review into the NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program, Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said today.
'The Government’s shark meshing program has been successful for 72 years, with only one fatality recorded on a netted beach (prior to that we had roughly a fatality a year),' he said.
'The recent series of shark attacks in the Sydney area has caused community concern and it should be known the Government is taking action. As part of the Shark Meshing Program Review Plan, which has been underway some time, the Government will:
• Research the common pathways used by white shark movements (in conjunction with the CSIRO) in an effort to improve understanding of high risk periods and hot spots.
• Look at the population trends and patterns of movements of dangerous sharks and attack behaviour – to be used to help develop an 'encounter risk' at certain times and days – with an aim to identify temporary hotspots and periods of higher than usual risk.
• Monitor shark net locations by GPS.
• Review data on shark attacks from various organisations in a view to improved co-ordination.
• Review effectiveness of fishing gear technology used in shark control programs.
• Establish a DNA library of shark species taken in the program to improve accuracy of identification.
• Conduct scientifically-based shark attack risk assessment.
• Initiate a new tagging program – tagging of all captured white sharks with information entered into a central database.
• Monitor the technological advances in shark control measures.
• Have an annual evaluation of the shark meshing program and publish an annual performance report for the first time.
• Include the official list of shark attack by beach for the whole of NSW since 1900.
Minister Macdonald said there was a lot of confusion in the community over just what the Government was doing in relation to the recent attacks.
He said he was meeting with lifesaver groups later in the week and would discuss further practical options.
However, he said the Opposition’s coupling of the shark quota to the recent attacks was mischievous and causing confusion.
'My counterpart can’t even get the Queensland shark quota right yet he keeps harping on about the shark quota,' Minister Macdonald said.
'Our data indicates that only 4.2% of sharks caught in the quota are the dangerous bull, great white or tiger sharks – the rest (more than 95% are harmless).
'Raising the quota would have no impact on dangerous sharks but would see harmless sharks harvested at unsustainable levels.
'Any 'hunt for sharks' would see over fishing on commercial species as well as protected species but have little impact on dangerous sharks.'
Minister Macdonald also rejected calls for aerial patrols over beaches.
'One of the key outcomes of the 2006 Shark Summit was that fixed wing aircraft are not the most effective way to increase safety, due to the limited coverage they provide,' he said.
'This is for a number of reasons - identification of species (even telling whether things are sharks or just a big fish) is difficult from a plane.
'In bad light – when sharks are particularly active - and at dawn and dusk (when all three recent attacks in the Sydney area occurred), visibility is poor from a plane - also if the water is choppy or dirty.
'Planes also spend only a minute or two over a beach on any run.
'When swimmers are in the ocean they are in the sharks’ territory and should exercise caution, don’t swim at dawn and dusk, try and stay in groups and swim between the flags.'
The NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program will be release by the end of the month for public comment. It is the first public review since 1972.