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shark nets grey nurse shark marine animals

Grey nurse sharks, one of Australia’s most endangered marine species, were among the “bycatch.” Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Inertia

Shark nets have long been a topic of controversy. A startling new report revealed data that’s surely not going to assuage any worries about the impact they have on marine life: over 90 percent of marine animals that were caught in Australian shark nets weren’t the animals the shark nets were supposed to be targeting.

NSW has a program to try and protect beachgoers from sharks. In short, nets are strung out across shark hotspots in an attempt to keep them away from shore. Every year on September 1, nets are installed at 51 beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong. They’re removed at the end of April. And while they may add some semblance of safety, the numbers don’t exactly stack up.

“More than half of the 208 non-target species – such as turtles, dolphins and smaller sharks – that were caught in the nets over the past eight months were killed, data obtained by conservationists shows,” reads a report in The Guardian “The 134 dead animals included five critically endangered grey nurse sharks, four endangered leatherback turtles and an endangered loggerhead turtle, according to the figures released on Tuesday as the nets were removed for another year.”

The data, which was acquired by Humane Society International (HSI), shows that of the non-target animals caught in the nets, only 36 percent of them were released alive.

In total, only 15 target animals were found in the nets. Three tiger sharks and 12 great white sharks. Five of those were killed. According to HSI, no target species were found in the nets at any of the metropolitan beaches in Sydney. Strangely, that uneven ratio is expected.

“The catch in the shark meshing program has always, and continues to be dominated by non-target animals. The average ratio of bycatch to the catch of target sharks … in recent years has been approximately 12:1,” a brief written for the agriculture minister, Tara Moriarty, read.

The use of shark nets, as I mentioned, is a controversial subject. Last year, the Australian government announced it would wait to install the nets as usual until it heard feedback from eight coastal councils. According to multiple sources, however, they were put in place before hearing from anyone.

A spokesman for the program denied that claim, saying that, “Last year DPI conducted formal consultation with relevant councils regarding shark management, including their willingness to be involved in future administration.”

Options are still on the table, though, and the Australian government is open to anything that will keep swimmers safer. “As trials of new technologies are proven to improve safety outcomes for swimmers,” the spokesman explained, “the government will consider support for the reassessment of shark nets to move towards new technologies.”

Lawrence Chlebeck, a spokesman for HSI, didn’t mince words. “Shark nets do not reduce the risk of shark bites,” he said. “They are providing nothing more than a false sense of security, all the while harming our threatened species.”


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