Wildlife death toll continues to rise in NSW shark nets program

Annual data has just been released on the deaths of iconic marine wildlife in New South Wales shark nets reveals drowning of species including dolphins and turtles continues to tragically rise, say two leading marine conservation groups.

Humane Society International and the Australian Marine Conservation Society say the Berejiklian Government must end the NSW Shark Meshing Program after new Department of Primary Industries data showed 284 animals were killed in the past year.

A shocking 183 threatened and protected species, including 7 dolphins, 6 turtles and 14 critically endangered grey nurse sharks were killed in the nets. Additionally, 179 rays were also found entangled.

Lawrence Chlebeck, Marine Biologist with Humane Society International said: “We need to call time on the shark nets. NSW DPI has made great progress in developing alternative tools to manage the risk of shark bite such as drone surveillance, personal shark deterrents, and education-all of which are much more effective at protecting ocean users than nets and without the heavy toll on marine wildlife.

“The NSW Government recently committed to expand drone surveillance across additional NSW beaches. The shark nets are unnecessary and this new wildlife death tally should surely be the last straw.”

The NSW Government is also using an extensive SMART drumline program to capture, tag, tow and release target sharks offshore.

Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said “The only guarantee we have from these nets is the drowning of iconic wildlife like dolphins and turtles. For over 80 years in NSW, tens of thousands of animals have drowned at netted beaches.”

Mr Chlebeck added: “Shark nets are a relic of the past having been introduced in the 1930s when little was known about shark behaviour and their importance in the ecosystem. The truth is shark nets don’t make swimmers safer and they take a terrible toll on marine life-costing the lives of turtles, dolphins, sharks and rays. It is high time the NSW Government consigns shark nets to the history books where they belong.”

The NSW Shark meshing program runs annually from 1 September to 30 April from Newcastle to Wollongong. Of the 480 animals reported caught in the nets during the 2019/2020 period, 430 were non-target species and 227 were either threatened or protected under NSW or Federal law, or listed on international threatened species lists.

Mr Chlebeck added: “Even those animals released alive are not guaranteed survival as the stress and injury of entanglement can cause death soon after.”

Dr Guida added: “Shark nets were removed along the North Coast of NSW because the local communities opposed the unacceptable wildlife death toll. Newcastle, Sydney, and Wollongong need to do the same. We ask the NSW Government to continue their progress and bring an end to the nets. This must be the last meshing season.”

Originally meant as a means to “fish-down” shark populations, the nets are culling devices. Contrary to popular belief, reducing shark populations does not reduce the already small risk of shark bite, as recently confirmed in HSI vs GBRMPA and QDAF at the Queensland Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In its decision, the Tribunal stated “the lethal component of the Shark Control Program does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions. The scientific evidence before us is overwhelming in this regard.”

NSW Shark Meshing Program 2018-19 Catch

SpeciesTotal caughtNumber killedStatus
Marine Turtles (Green and Loggerhead – both threatened species protected under the EPBC Act and IUCN threatened species)106Non-target
Dolphins

(Common Dolphin – protected)

77Non-target
Grey nurse sharks (Critically Endangered under the EPBC Act)3114Non-target
Smooth Hammerhead Sharks (IUCN listed as Vulnerable)9999Non-target
Other sharks10186Non-target
Rays19738Non-target
Great white sharks (Endangered under the EPBC Act, IUCN listed as Vulnerable)4224Target
Bull sharks33Target
Tiger sharks54Target
Total non-target animals430253Non-target
Total target sharks5031Target
Total Threatened or Protected* Species227183Target and Non-target

*Listed as Threatened under Australian State or Federal Law, listed under the IUCN Redlist, or protected by Australian State or Federal Law.

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