DPI criticised by both sides of the shark net debate

UPDATE 5pm:  POOR forecasted weather has stopped DPI contractors from checking North Coast shark nets more than once daily in the state's trial so far, a DPI spokesperson has said.


Forty-four animals have died in the nets since the trial started properly on December 8 last year, including two bottlenose dolphins, three turtles and 16 sharks.


Stakeholders both for and against shark nets have criticised DPI authorities for not trying harder to ensure nets are checked at least twice daily to reduce the risk of animals dying.


Le-Ba Boardriders President Don Munro, an avid surfer in the Ballina shire and prominent advocate of the trial, said weather conditions this summer should not have stopped contractors from checking nets.


"DPI relies on weather forecasting from the Bureau of Meteorology," said a spokesperson in response.


"Weather, swell and current conditions prevented twice daily net checks on a number of days."  


Ballina Councillor Keith Williams told the ABC if weather conditions were a constant problem, the trial must be abandoned.


Still no SMART alerts


Last month Ballina Mayor David Wright said he wanted the nets checked more often and would also seek an update on the development of a SMART system for the nets.


Investigation of technology to alert rescuers in real time to entrapped animals was included in the government's plan for the trial but has not been publicly mentioned since by spokespeople at the DPI.


After repeated requests for updates on the technology's development, a DPI spokesperson referred The Northern Star to a website detailing a new government project called The NSW Smart Sensing Network, a research collaboration with the Universities of Sydney and NSW.


The website describes various SMART research projects but makes no obvious mention of shark nets, including on a page called Wildlife where the only two research papers provided date back to 2014 and 2012.


No nets at four of five trial beaches in middle of school holidays


Mr Munro said he wants another net installed outside the Lennox Hotel and wanted to know why existing shark nets were not in the water for all 31 days in the past month when weather seemed reasonable.


"The nets were removed from the water at Ballina for four days for 13th until the 17th January due to foretasted storm conditions," a DPI spokesperson said.


DPI diplomacy on increased death toll


Last month a DPI media statement said a 72% figure of animals released alive from nets was a "promising start".


That figure dropped to 56% in the second by-catch report, released without comment.


"The types of species and the number of individuals present in the waters off northern NSW changes monthly, therefore so will the numbers of interactions with the nets," a DPI spokesperson said later.


"For example this month there was an increase in Manta Rays, which are migratory species that lives in tropical, marine waters worldwide, but they are also found occasionally in temperate seas.


"We want to use this information contained in this report to provide a better scientific pattern of what's going on to inform the results of our trial.


"The majority of species were released alive."

Fourteen animals listed as either vulnerable, endangered and/or protected were killed in the nets in the past month and The Northern Star has sought comment from Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton.


UPDATE 4pm: "FLOATING death traps", "a false sense of security" and "little more than a culling program" says NSW Greens MP and marine environment spokesperson Justin Field describing shark nets.

The comments come after the release of the second official North Coast shark net trial bycatch report from the Department of Primary Industries.

"Nets (are) catching and killing more threatened marine life than sharks," said Mr Field in a media statement.

"Only one target white shark out of a total 72 marine creatures were caught in the nets," he said, ""the North Coast trial report data has exposed the shark nets trial as little more than a culling program for marine animals like dolphins, turtles and rays.

"The only reasonable response given the trial results to date is to haul up the nets and put in place non-lethal technologies such as community observer programs, better resourcing lifeguards and personal deterrent devices."


Mr Field represents the Richmond state electorate, where the Byron Shire Council voted against using shark nets in favour of a shark spotting program.


No shark attacks have been reported in either Byron Bay or Ballina since the introduction of the differing shark mitigation strategies in November last year.


"The North Coast results come less than a month after figures showed a dramatic four-fold increase in the number of marine creatures caught across the state's broader shark mesh net program and a shocking 300% increase in animals found dead in the nets," said Mr Field.


"The shark nets are floating death traps for our marine life


"Some of our best-loved species such as dolphins, turtles and rays are already under pressure and don't need the added risk of ending up dead or injured by nets.

"NSW can do better than a shark net mesh program that provides a false sense of security for swimmers but has a huge impact on our wildlife and budget."


The Green have a "non-lethal plan for modern, effective shark management", said Mr Field, including education, community observation and SMART devices.

He said a full copy of the plan was available via his website.

UPDATE 3pm: BALLINA MP Tamara Smith has launched a petition against the NSW government's North Coast shark net trial, calling for non-lethal shark mitigation methods to be funded instead.

Some 600 people have signed the petition, linked to the Greens MP's website.

Ms Smith responded to news of the latest official bycatch report showing 32 animals died in nets in her electorate over the past month.

"It is very sad to see the mesh nets continue to kill marine life," she said.

"Figures for the whole of NSW for the past year show that 350 animals were killed up and down the NSW coast in the nets.

"I call on the NSW government to commit to shark spotting by community groups and to continue with other non-lethal shark mitigation technologies instead of these nets, which kill more non-target animals than sharks and which give swimmers and surfers a false sense of security."

Federal Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson last year said he would push for a senate inquiry into the exemption of state significant projects from environmental laws, including the North Coast shark net trial.

He has been contacted for comment.

UPDATE 2pm: PRIMARY Industries Minister Niall Blair says his department is committed to limiting bycatch in shark nets but stopped short of commenting on a 166% increase in wildlife deaths.

Twelve animals died in NSW North Coast shark nets in the first month of a government trial and that number rose by 166% to 32 animals in the second month ending Feburary 8, DPI reports showed.

Fourteen of the animals were listed as vulnerable, endangered or protected, including two turtles, a bottlenose dolphin and a white shark.

Ballina Councillor Keith Williams, also a member of Australian Seabird Rescue, told the ABC this morning that the dolphin's death could be a significant loss to Ballina's local dolphin pod, consisting of 60 dolphins.

"We will continue to consult with the community and closely monitor these results each month," Mr Blair said via a brief statement.

"As we all know, shark nets are not a silver bullet and we continue to roll out a suite of measures as part of the $16 million Shark Management Strategy.

"Our aim has not changed, we are committed to finding the best measures available to minimise the risk of a shark attack while also limiting the impact on marine life."

New NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been contacted for comment.

Her predecessor, Mike Baird, successfully sought special permission from federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg for the trial to go ahead in face of environmental laws aimed at protecting wildlife.


UPDATE 12.30pm: WEATHER conditions over the past month should not have stopped DPI contractors from checking shark nets at least twice daily, says a leading North Coast advocate for the trial.

"I would like to see the nets checked twice daily at least, more if possible," said Le-Ba Boardriders President Don Munro, who has campaigned strongly for shark net installation along the North Coast.

"The weather hasn't been rough, today is possibly the worst south swell we've had.

"I couldn't see any real reason why the inspections couldn't happen."

DPI officials said at the start of the NSW government's controversial six month North Coast trial contractors would aim to check nets at least twice daily for entrapped wildlife, weather permitting.

But from January 7 to February 8 contractors checked nets 39 times over 31 days, a second bycatch report from the DPI showed.

Nets at four of the five beaches included in the trial had nets in place for 27 of the 31 days and Mr Munro said he wants to know why they weren't in place the entire month.

He said again, weather should not have been a factor.

Mr Munro called last month for a second net to be installed at Lennox Head outside the Lennox Hotel but said he has not received an update from the DPI on his request.

"We're in the middle of organising a petition," he said, "we have so many people who have approached me and others that want to see the net."

"Last Sunday up to 50 kids were in the water outside the hotel, if an attack was to happen the odds of it being a kid are quite high.

"(DPI authorities') indication at the start was to run the six month trial first, I'm not accepting that's good enough.

"They're playing Russian roulette with our kids."

Mr Munro said he'd had "a quick look" at the department's latest bycatch report and saw bycatch was "up".

"No one likes to see that but we knew that was going to be the case," he said, "things will be assessed at the end of the trial.

"People who are pissed off immediately are irrational, a huge majority of locals wanted the nets.

"We've had the nets in two months, there have been no attacks."

Mr Munro repeated his response to last month's bycatch report, saying he'd heard marine wildlife often took a while to become used to the presence of shark nets and initial bycatch figures were understandably high at the start at of the trial.

"Hopefully the bycatch will even itself out," he said, "but we can't knee jerk and pull (the nets) out.

"Look, I'll go along with that if that's what (the community) wants but make sure there's an alternative.

"Until they come with a feasible and better option, we have to accept there will be collateral damage.

"There's never been a species of marine wildlife wiped out (by shark nets)."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, DPI Minister Niall Blair and DPI authorities have all been contacted for comment.


THURSDAY 10.35am: THIRTY-TWO animals died after getting caught in North Coast shark nets in the second month of a controversial NSW government trial, including 14 vulnerable, endangered and/or protected species.

Unlike last month, officials from the NSW Department of Primary Industries declined to issue a media release with the by-catch report, quietly publishing it online yesterday.

Seventy-two animals in total were caught, 67% more than the number caught in the trial's first month, the report showed.

Last month, 72% of animals caught were released alive, a figure DPI officials said was "a promising start" in their accompanying media release.

That figure has now dropped to just over half - 56% - of animals caught.

Ballina Councillor Keith Williams, who is also a member of Australian Seabird Rescue, told the ABC this morning the rise in numbers reflected warmer sea temperatures and a change in marine wildlife diversity off the north coast.

He expressed disappointment DPI contractors have not implemented SMART technology in the nets to alert wildlife rescuers in real time to entrapped animals, a development that may have produced a smaller number of deaths.

The Northern Star has repeatedly requested an interview with Dr Matt Broadhurst, understood to be leading research into the technology but DPI spokespeople have said he is unavailable.

Last month's report showed contractors checked nets less than twice daily on average, although the government's plan for the trial indicated nets would be checked twice daily and Cr Williams suggested the contractors were not being paid enough to do more regular net checks.

The DPI's website states contractors rely on suitable weather conditions for net checks.

This month's report showed nets were checked 39 times over a 31-day total for nets in the water, meaning nets were checked less regularly than month.

Nets at four of the five beaches included in the trial were removed from the water for four days out of a total 31.

Main Beach at Evans Head was the only beach to have a shark net in place for all 31 days between January 8 and February 7.

The DPI website states the government has three "target shark species": white, tiger and bull.

One of 12 sharks caught this month was a target species - a white shark, listed as vulnerable.

One spinner shark was released alive at Main Beach, the other vulnerable-listed 10 hammerhead sharks and white shark died.

Two turtles died - an endangered loggerhead and a vulnerable green.

One loggerhead turtle was released alive from the net at Seven Mile Beach in Lennox Head.

Eighteen rays died compared to 37 released alive.

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