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 Opinion Pieces
 
Time for action on sharks

Published: Saturday, 20 May 2017
Author: Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Publication: Weekend West, Perth

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The sanctity of human life comes before all else. This is why the loss over the last 17 years of 15 innocent souls to shark attacks in Western Australia is unacceptable. It is a fatality rate well beyond that experienced by any other State and represents nearly half of Australia’s total number of fatalities since 2000.

While there are over 400 different shark species in the world, 180 of which can be found in Australian waters, only three species have been responsible for all Australian fatalities since 1938.

Of these three sharks — the bull, tiger and the great white — the last is by far the most deadly.

This is why I am calling on the West Australian Government to take stronger action to protect its citizens in the water from more shark attacks.

The experience of Queensland and NSW is instructive. Queensland has had a shark control program since 1962, which today extends to 85 beaches across the State. It relies on mesh nets, drum lines, or a combination of the two. The results have been emphatic with one fatality at a protected beach over more than half a century.

NSW commenced its mesh nets program in 1937, which today extends over 50 beaches from the Hunter region in the north to the Illawarra region in the south, with no fatalities at a protected beach since 1951.

These nets are 150m long, 6m deep and normally located up to half a kilometre offshore. In 2016 NSW sought approval from the Turnbull Government to put in place an additional 10 nets on the north coast over a 12-month period.

Approval was granted and over the past five months six target sharks, two great white, three tiger and one bull shark, were caught. In addition, NSW has deployed SMART drum lines since 2015.

Using state-of-the-art satellite technology combined with two buoys, a rope and anchor, smart drum lines have been a very effective non-lethal means of protecting the public.

When a shark is caught, a scientific team is alerted after which they tag and release the animal far out to sea.

Over a five-month period in NSW these drum lines have caught 29 target sharks including three tiger, two bull and 24 great white sharks.

In contrast, Western Australia has deployed a series of haphazard measures with limited effect.

In 2014 the Federal coalition government granted the Barnett government an exemption under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) to trial drum lines to catch and kill sharks.

The trial never became permanent and today Western Australia is without smart drum lines or nets to protect beachgoers.

The McGowan Government has recently allocated funding for a “mitigation strategy” which includes rebates for repellent devices, emergency signs and drone surveillance measures. This is all well and good but does not go far enough.

The McGowan Government should follow the lead of Queensland and NSW and put in place nets. As the Federal Environment Minister, I will speedily consider any such request and note that just recently NSW received Commonwealth approval for nets.

This week the Western Australian Liberal Party suggested that the Federal Government remove the great white shark from the list of vulnerable and threatened species under the EPBC Act, where it has been listed since 1999. For this to occur a number of steps need to be taken both domestically and internationally.

First, I am required under legislation to obtain and consider advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee as to whether or not the great white shark should remain eligible for listing against set criteria. The criteria includes the size and geographic distribution of the species and its population trend.

This requires an extensive population survey which the CSIRO already has under way.

Second, since 2002 the great white shark has been listed under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.

As one of the 124 signatories to the convention, alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and the European Union to name but a few, Australia must provide protection to the great white shark which is done through the EPBC Act. Therefore, only by removing the shark from the convention, which would require a two-thirds majority of voting members present, can Australia’s obligation be rescinded.

In light of these extensive and complicated domestic and international considerations, it is obvious that the best way forward is for the Western Australian Government to take immediate action by supporting drum lines and nets in order to fulfil its responsibilities to its citizens.

I know how challenging this issue must be for West Australians and particularly painful for those who have been touched by tragedy. Indeed, I have heard some of their comments calling for new measures.

This is now the time to take considered, proportionate and effective action, which based on the experiences of NSW and Queensland will save lives.

 Josh Frydenberg is Minister for the Environment and Energy.
 

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