Nick Carroll On: One Year On – What's Changed With The Government? Part III

23 Sep 2017 26

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer


While we all have our opinions on the shark issue, one government body has the job of doing something about it. That’s the NSW Department of Primary Industry, which is responsible for all the actions being taken along the NSW coast to mitigate shark/human contact.

We sent the DPI’s Kim Wolfenden a list of questions along the lines of those we asked our other Shark Summit panellists recently. This is what came back to us. It’s long, but it gives you a picture of how the DPI has been working on things.

Part I, One Year On, What's Changed – The Survey Results
Part II, One Year On, What's Changed – The Panelists 

What your take is on the current state of things with the shark issue?

The NSW Government continues to test and trial a suite of shark mitigation measures as part of its $16 million Shark Management Strategy to help reduce the risk of shark encounters.

Approximately six million people visit our beaches in NSW each year, so reducing the risk of shark encounters for swimmers and surfers along the NSW coastline is a significant task.

We do not have a silver bullet. There is no a guaranteed method to prevent shark encounters.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) continues to investigate a range of detection and deterrent technologies and has consulted with world leading experts as part of the programs being delivered under the NSW Government’s Shark Management Strategy.

How have events since the panel shaped your thinking about what’s going on in the waters off our coast?

A lot has happened since the Coastalwatch panel.

NSW DPI undertook a six-month trial of nets on the North Coast over summer of 2016/17 and will embark on another trial beginning November for a further six months.

Community consultation and engagement was undertaken before and at the end of the trial using various platforms, including surveys, drop-in stands, visits to businesses, formal meetings and signage.

A total of 28 community drop-in stands were located in the Ballina, Lennox and Evans Head regions during November/December 2016 (immediately before the Trial) and May/June 2017 (at the end of the Trial). The stands were located at beach sites and other high-traffic locations and resulted in the NSW DPI community engagement team speaking directly with an estimated 2,235 people.

The community response to the nets was mixed. Generally, local residents were more positive than negative towards using nets both at the start and the end of the Trial, but negativity increased at the end of the trial and primarily in response to bycatch (animals caught other than target sharks) in the nets.

In the post-trial surveys, telephone respondents who saw the nets as positive focused largely on two factors; the nets made them feel safer and the perceived decrease in shark-human interactions. Those perceiving the nets as negative were generally concerned about bycatch, especially dolphins and turtles. Those who felt neutral were more likely to believe the nets were ineffective at preventing shark-human interactions What was interesting is that surfers maintained support for using the nets before and at the end of the trial. Ballina/Evans Head surfers were strongest in their support before the trial (63% positive, 9% negative) and at the end of the trial (56% positive, 24% negative).

Our DPI Shark Tagging Team is having promising success tagging White, Tiger and Bull sharks using SMART drumline technology while it is also proving effective in catching target species with minimal bycatch and mortality. The initial trials of these SMART drumlines demonstrated their ability to capture sharks and trigger the system with instant alerts.

DPI will continue its research to fine tune this gear for use in Australian conditions. This involves testing different gears (hooks, trace lengths and trace material), bait types to maximise catch rates of target shark species only, and videoing the activity of animals around SMART drumlines before and after capture using underwater cameras.

Data from five months of the North Coast shark net trial are summarised below:
- Five mesh nets at five beaches from Lennox Head to Evans – five month cumulative figures of six target sharks caught (two White, one Bull, three Tiger Sharks); three deceased, three alive.
- A total of 247 non-target animals were caught in the nets; 117 were released alive (47%) and 130 (53%) were found deceased in the nets.
- 25 SMART drumlines located at the same five beaches as the mesh nets trial: cumulative figures include 36 target sharks (31 White, 3 Tiger and 2 Bull Sharks); one White Shark deceased (entangled and washed ashore), all others released alive. Two non-target animals (both Grey Nurse Sharks) were caught and both were released alive.

There are 100 SMART drumlines in use in NSW: 35 are currently deployed between Ballina and Evans Head,10 between Coffs Harbour and Sawtell, 10 at Forster/Tuncurry, 10 between Kiama and Shell Cove, 10 between Ulladulla and Narrawallee, and another 10 to be deployed at an additional location TBD. We have retained 15 SMART drumlines for research.

Helicopters and drones are again underway for this school holidays, on the NSW north and mid north coasts. Helicopters will fly daily, weather permitting, from Point Danger (Tweed Heads) to South Ballina, Wooli to Sawtell, Nambucca Heads to Port Macquarie and Crowdy Head to Birubi during the school holidays as well as Stockton to South Wollongong on weekends and every Wednesday.

As well, there is funding for annual competitive grants, which are advertised and funded to foster further commercial innovation in technologies for detection and deterrents and funding for advanced university research projects relevant to bather protection, including shark detection or deterrence.

For the full range of measures available under the Shark Management Strategy, visit

Are people modifying their behaviour?

DPI has continued to engage with the community by ensuring that information about the trials are is provided to the community and stakeholders through monthly updates of shark net and SMART drumline trial data, meetings, regular communication with key stakeholders and having a visible presence on the beaches with the net trials through signage and community drop in stands.

The SharkSmart App and Twitter feed are providing real time information that allows each person to make informed decisions about when and where the enter the water. Are the shark mitigation measures really working and if so, how?

The suite of shark mitigation measures being trialled are still in the process of review and assessment over the life of the Shark Management Strategy (to 2020). So far results on the use of SMART drumlines and drones have been encouraging.

Since August 2015, we have tagged and are actively tracking 176 White Sharks, 4 Tiger Sharks and 31 Bull Sharks (as at 19 September 2017).

The SMART Drumlines work to catch target White, Tiger and Bull Sharks so they can be tagged and released. Following capture, the sharks are relocated by the response team and their natural reaction is to move offshore following tagging in the short to medium term.

Whilst support for the nets is mixed, we see high support from the community for other measures including SMART Drumlines, aerial surveillance (using helicopters and drones) and listening stations. Research to understand shark numbers and movements received the strongest support from the community along with education (see below table whereby survey respondents who were ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ supportive are represented in percentages).

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