Mystery over drum line sabotage throughout Ballina waters
MINISTER for Primary Industries Niall Blair has slammed those involved in tampering with the two smart drum lines being trialled of Lighthouse Beach and Flat Rock in Ballina, saying he "cannot comprehend (their) motives".
The drum lines were believed to have had their bait removed on Wednesday morning, a short time after a Sea Shepherd vessel was seen inspecting the lines.
Ballina Fisheries staff checked the drum lines after their alert sounded and found the bait was gone.
Unsually, there were no remnants of bait left on the hook, nor any damage to the hook, nor a typical "shark smell" which are all characteristics of a shark strike.
Expert advice concluded the line had been tampered by humans, according to a DPI spokeswoman.
Ballina marine ecologist Jann Gilbert who accompanied the Sea Shepherd crew denied any involvement in the incident.
Ms Gilbert, who was there in a "representative capacity" on behalf of Australian Seabird Rescue, said the Department of Primary Industries staff knew they weren't involved in the suspected incident.
"All we did is take footage, and I know that DPI knows nothing happened," she said. "DPI are aware that we did nothing illegal.
Ms Gilbert said a number of organisations had concerns about the drum lines which prompted the independent inspection.
"I was there as an independent observer for Seabird Rescue because it costs Seabird Rescue $1000 a month to rehab a turtle and if one gets caught on the line that's an issue for a volunteer organisation," she said.
"Sea Shepherd have program of monitoring lines, that's nothing unusual, and Seabird (Rescue) had an opportunity to go out there with them.
"There was certainly bait on the line when we were there.
"We can account for every minute via footage or GPS while we were on that boat."
A NSW Police Media spokeswoman said Richmond police were contacted by Ballina Fisheries regarding suspicious vessel in the vicinity of the eco drum lines about 9.20am on Wednesday morning.
"Police attended and were later informed by Fisheries that all their drum lines had been de-baited but not damaged."
"A short time later police spoke to a man and two women on a boat ramp at River St in Ballina. They were with a rigid inflatable boat at the time.
"They were compliant and were allowed to leave, and no further actions is expected."
Mr Blair said the State Government's shark strategy was about "using new technology to better protest beachgoers with the least impact as possible to our precious marine environment."
"I simply cannot comprehend the motives of any person that would stand in the way of the scientific trial of new technologies that may help improve bather safety while limiting the impacts upon our precious marine environment."
"I remind anyone contemplating this action that it is a criminal offence to interfere with the testing of this equipment."