'Protecting human life is the number one priority'
UPDATE, 6pm: PREMIER Mike Baird has put on a brave face in an emotional stand-off over his shark net decision with marine conservationists, some of which one staffer described as "feral".
Mr Baird said the government had "done what we can" to protect marine life but protecting human life was the "number one priority".
"The actions we've taken (are) on the back of community sentiment," he said.
"The attacks we've seen up here are extraordinary, anyone that tries to say otherwise hasn't been watching the news, hasn't known the families and the community impact here.
He said the evidence that nets were supported by the majority was "compelling".
Only 12% of more than 600 people phone surveyed by the DPI in Ballina Shire didn't want nets, whereas more than 50% of people actively supported the trial.
Of 5000 people surveyed online, 53% supported the trial.
"Yes there are some people who are upset today (and) I understand why they're upset, but I think what you want is a Premier and a government that is prepared to do the right thing by the community (and) the majority of the community wants this to go ahead," Mr Baird said.
The 150m long shark nets, which will rise 6m off the ocean floor, were deployed during the day.
Surfer and net supporter Don Munro, the president of the Le-Ba Boardriders Club, said nets were not "100%" but had been "proven to be fine for 79 years".
"We'll have the best nets system anywhere in the world," he said.
Director General of the NSW DPI Scott Hansen said the nets would be equipped with pingers to warn off whales and dolphins, as well as "smart" sensors which warn contractors when marine life is entangled via a text message.
Mr Hansen said data on by-catch would be released "at least monthly".
He said the DPI believed the "utilisation of technology" would enable the DPI to both protect marine life and humans, not one or the other.
Earlier Mr Baird was confronted by Australian Seabird Rescue general manager Kathrina Southwell, who told him endangered sea turtles could drown in 15 minutes if entangled.
He replied that the government would be carefully monitoring the nets and releasing regular by-catch data during the trial.
Shark Watch spokesman Andrew Nieuwenhof then questioned Mr Baird why he was "ignoring" the group's proposal for shark watch crews in Ballina Shire.
"You've received a 20 page proposal for funding, only $50,000, to get five crews up and running between Ballina and Lennox beaches. Why have you ignored that?"
Mr Nieuwenhof said the group had 60 volunteers ready to go.
UPDATE, 3.20pm: AN EMOTIONALLY charged protest against the NSW Government's decision to rollout shark netting could see a Mullumbimby man arrested for assaulting Premier Mike Baird.
Dean Jefferys, 58, a former Sea Shepherd skipper, attempted to ensnare Mr Baird in a prop net as he left a press conference at Ballina Marine Rescue Tower.
Mr Jefferys, who was also clad in a hammerhead shark suit, was trying to make a point about the impact of shark nets on hammerhead sharks.
But the clumsy attempt at protest theatre could land him in court after local police insisted he provide them with his name address and phone number.
After the confrontation with police, he told a waiting media pack that "I just wanted the Premier to get an experience of what it's like being trapped inside a net".
"I didn't actually touch him at all but he (could) see from inside the net… this is what the whales and the sharks and the dolphins have to do… but when they get trapped underneath these nets they suffocate… they drown."
"I just wanted to give the Premier a perspective that these shark nets, they kill everything indiscriminately, including hammerhead sharks that I'm representing today."
"Five thousand of them have been killed in the last 55 years, and they're an endangered species."
The spectacle was the culmination of an emotional protest by anti-netting groups over the controversial shark net decision.
But Mr Baird said he believed the majority of Ballina community supported his decision, while admitting it was the "last thing left in the locker" to combat the unprecedented spike in shark attacks.
A follow up gathering is being held at Lighthouse Beach by Australian Seabird Rescue supporters.
UPDATE, 1pm: NSW Premier Mike Baird made a last minute decision to abandon a planned media conference at the Lance Ferris Wharf at Ballina ahead of the installation of the first shark net.
Protesters were waiting for Mr Baird at the wharf, but he did not turn up.
The media conference was moved to the Ballina Marine Rescue tower.
Rochelle Ferris, the daughter of Australian Seabird Rescue founder Lance Ferris, for whom the wharf was named, made a heartfelt statement on Facebook today, saying she was appalled by the government's decision to use the wharf for the shark net announcement.
"The profound ignorance of the Premier to undertake this destructive act against marine wildlife from this wharf demonstrates either his lack of knowledge of the legacy Lance Ferris has left behind, and/or his utter offensive behaviour towards the 25-year mission of Lance's legacy, Australian Seabird Rescue, to reduce the human impact on marine wildlife," she wrote.
"The responsible process for deploying shark nets, including a thorough risk assessment and response strategy are yet to be finalised.
"In fact, the only organisation within the region licensed to accept sea turtles for rehabilitation (Australian Seabird Rescue, one of the top three busiest sea turtle hospitals in Australia) was only invited to participate in stakeholder meetings or risk assessment workshops as of this week.
"All this from the wharf named after a Serventy Conservation Medal, National Landcare Award and Australia Day Local Hero Award (to name a few) winning conservationist and a few kilometres from a Marine Park designed to protect sharks.
"As Lance's daughter, continuing this fight for marine wildlife, I find the entire situation offensive."
ORIGINAL STORY: VISITING Premier Mike Baird will face off with an angry coalition of anti-shark net groups as they stage a mass protest against the deployment of the North Coast's first ever shark net in Ballina.
Yesterday the Premier's office announced suddenly the shark net program was set to go after the Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg had given the necessary approval to specially exempt the moratorium on new shark nets along Australia's coastline.
A swift response from environment groups and the Greens followed.
In an announcement this morning about the impending rally on Lighthouse Beach, former Sea Shepherd skipper Dean Jefferys said in a statement the Premier had "decided to pander to some ill-informed surfers, noisy locals and business operators" by installing nets.
"He will squander probably millions of dollars on nets and maintenance that could go into other more effective methods of shark control that don't indiscriminately kill local and migrating marine life," Mr Jefferys said.
"Shark nets are purely cosmetic to convince tourists and locals they are 'safe'."
The Sea Shepherd statement also noted that the NSW Shark Meshing Program had caused the deaths of 16,696 deaths of marine creatures from 1959 to 2014, mostly by-catch.
Australian Seabird Rescue general manager Kathrina Southwell said it was "upsetting" that Premier would be conducting a press conference at Lance Ferris wharf in Ballina - the wharf named in honour of the founder of Australian Seabird Rescue.
Supporters of ASR have been asked to wear blue when they gathering at Lighthouse Beach at 1pm.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society releases a statement labelleing the shark net decision "knee jerk".
AMCS spokesperson Josh Coates said the legislation had been pushed through with "reckless haste and without appropriate checks and balances".
"The exemption from federal laws uses emergency provisions designed for responding to national emergencies like bushfires and other natural disasters."
"This is not what those provisions were designed for."
NSW Upper House Greens MP Justin Field has also released a statement claiming the Premier's decision to trial nets was "more about politics than about science".
"The speed of legislation and the failure to consult meaningfully on the design and management of the trial shows it for the PR exercise it is," he said.
He called for more resources to be allocated to"proven programs" like the Greens-supported Shark Watch taking place in Byron Shire.
In response a spokeswoman from the Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair's office said the North Coast community had demonstrated "strong support" for the six month trial and the five locations chosen.
A phone poll of 600 Ballina and Evans Head residents found:
- 57% were 'extremely' or 'very' concerned for the community about shark bites
- 54% felt the trial would have a positive impact on the community, compared with12 per cent who felt it would have a negative impact
- 63% of surfers felt the trial would have a positive impact.
"More than 5400 people also participated in an online survey and dropped in to a community stand in Ballina; those results were similarly supportive of the trial, with 61% of surfers believing it would be a positive initiative for the area," the spokeswoman said.