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Beach Grit

Soon: Great Whites off the protected list?

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

"It’s time for the dithering to stop and human lives to be put first.”

If you in south-west Australia and you find surfing a little too stressful there what with all the Great Whites swishing around, here’s something that might give you a thrill.

Western Australia’s state Liberal Council, among whose number include a couple of ministers in the Federal Government, have “called on the Commonwealth to protect ocean users by removing white sharks as a protected species.”

In today’s The Australian, and in a story not reported by Fred “Quint” Pawle, April’s fatal attack on a teenage girl surfer by a Great White has prompted the state’s Liberal Party to push for a change in the animal’s protection status.

Now, the Libs don’t fuck around.

“As the Commonwealth Environment Minister, I would give full and prompt consideration of any such proposal. It’s time for the dithering to stop and human lives to be put first.”

The issue’s going to be debated at the Libs’ fed council in June. If it gets the numbers, federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg could change the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow for sharks to be killed without the states having to seek special exemptions from the Commonwealth.

And Frydenberg ain’t one for sentiment.

“As the Commonwealth Environment Minister, I would give full and prompt consideration of any such proposal. It’s time for the dithering to stop and human lives to be put first.”

Now let’s dunk our heads in the story.

In the WA town of Albany, veteran shark fisherman Graeme Sell said yesterday he would welcome any moves to make it easier for white sharks to be killed, including by removing their status as a protected species.

“There was no way in the world they were ever endangered,” Mr Sell said. “We see more pointers now than we’ve ever seen. Our divers used to see one every five years, but now they are seeing probably seven or eight a year. And they’re big buggers too. There definitely needs to be a change.”

The push for tougher action on sharks comes amid fresh evidence that the installation of SMART drumlines in northern NSW last year had succeeded in catching white sharks, while also boosting local businesses. Ballina Chamber of Commerce board member Ray Karam said the town had enjoyed an influx of visitors since the drumlines were installed six months ago.

“We noticed a lot of people coming into Ballina over the summer period to visit the beaches,” he said. “We had a lot of businesses telling us they had a good holiday trade and even now, in winter, we’re seeing a good influx of people into the community.”

A NSW Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said SMART drumline figures from the north coast recorded 29 target sharks caught, with 24 great whites, three tiger sharks and two bull sharks. Two grey nurse sharks were also caught and released in the trial period.

“The SMART drumlines on the north coast of NSW are proving very effective in catching white, bull and tiger sharks with minimal bycatch,” the spokeswoman said.

The technology intercepts sharks along the coast, sending an alert to contractors who remove the shark from the line and relocate it.

The spokeswoman said 35 SMART drumlines would be ­deployed daily along the coast from next month, bringing the total number in NSW to 100.

However, Ballina Fishermen’s Co-operative’s chief executive Phil Hilliard said the drumline trial had caught fewer sharks than he expected.

“The last six months have been a very quiet period for the number of sharks, and that’s not because of the drumlines,” Mr Hilliard said. “The drumlines have been good for the Department of ­Fisheries to tag and monitor the sharks coming too close to the beach but they haven’t taken huge amounts away from the area.”

Mr Hilliard said the shark population had grown exponentially in the past three years, ­affecting local fishers’ ability to do their jobs.

Mr Frydenberg said yesterday the act did not need to be amended for the new WA Labor government — which refused to set drumlines or cull sharks after the attack on Laeticia — to take effective action to save lives.

“What the West Australian government should do right now is commit to putting in shark nets and SMART drumlines like Queensland and NSW and, if necessary, undertake a culling program,” Mr Frydenberg said.