A shark trapped in fishing nets was released by Kelli Anderson, a keen environmentalist and diver.
Photo EcoDivers
A shark trapped in fishing nets was released by Kelli Anderson, a keen environmentalist and diver. Photo EcoDivers Contributed

REVEALED: The shocking impact of shark nets and drum lines

IT'S the killer question facing all of us - do we slaughter sharks and other marine life to lengthen the odds of another tragic shark attack, or do we protect our marine life and swallow the fear when we venture into the ocean?

Shark meshing programs in both Queensland and NSW are controversial because alongside the killing of "dangerous" sharks such as Tigers and Bulls, they inadvertently kill other endangered sharks and marine life.

This includes hammerhead sharks, grey nurse sharks, endangered green turtles, dolphins, and rays.

Here's the breakdown of the impact.

Queensland

Last year in Queensland there were 82 animals other than sharks caught in Queensland's network of drumlines and nets, which operate across 87 beaches from Coolangatta to Cairns.

It also caught a whopping 695 sharks, some of which are considered endangered.

Of the non-sharks, more than half of were released alive. Most of the sharks died, even those not considered dangerous.

Of 10 dolphins caught, only one survived.

There were 15 turtles caught but 14 survived.

Of the five manta rays caught, four were released.

 

A pink underbellied manta ray has been spotted twice at Lady Elliott Island in Queensland.
A pink underbellied manta ray has been spotted twice at Lady Elliott Island in Queensland. Ryan Jeffery

A humpback whale caught in a Gold Coast net was also released alive.

The program in Queensland also killed 36 hammerheads, 90 blacktip reef whalers, and three endangered grey nurse sharks.

It caught 36 tawny sharks but they were all released alive.

NSW

In NSW, where 51 beaches from across Wollongong, Sydney, and Newcastle are netted, there were 145 non-target animals entangled in 2014-15, which included endangered sharks, dolphins, rays, turtles.

Compared to Queensland, the NSW program is much less successful at killing sharks and catches relatively more non-target species.

Meshing only caught 44 target shark species, including 10 white sharks - and just two tiger sharks and two bull sharks.

The program killed three dolphins, three green turtles, four grey nurse sharks, and one hawksbill turtle.

 

One female and nine male green sea turtles were spotted in action during the female's 72 hours of fertility in this year's mating season.
One female and nine male green sea turtles were spotted in action during the female's 72 hours of fertility in this year's mating season. Kate Hickey

"Threatening" process

In 2002 a report by the Fisheries Scientific Committee made a recommendation to list the program as a "key threatening process".

"Species other than sharks are indiscriminately caught and often killed in the shark meshing program," the report noted.

These included dugongs, various species of turtles including the endangered loggerhead fur seals and humpback whales.

It noted the meshing program "adversely affects two or more threatened species... and could cause species, populations or ecological communities that are not threatened to become threatened".

Fisheries Queensland position

In a statement a Fisheries Queensland spokesman said the department had worked to reduce by-catch as much as possible in recent years.

Drumlines now used bait that didn't attract dolphins or turtles, and all nets were fitted with "pingers" to warn whales or dolphins.

Teams of specialists also patrol the nets to release any "non-target catch" as soon as possible.

"To support the Marine Animal Release Teams, the Queensland Government runs a volunteer whale observer program on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts to identify and report possible entanglements from high-rise apartments."

"Also, CoastalCom surveillance cameras are mounted on Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Rainbow Beach buildings to allow monitoring of shark control equipment for entangled marine animals.

"The cameras can be remotely operated to focus on nets, enabling faster responses to check any reported entanglements."

Here's a breakdown of some of the main species caught in Queensland, where and how:

Common dolphins: Seven caught in nets and one in a drumline, all between Gold Coast and Sunshine Coasts. All the net catch were deceased.

Bottlenose dolphin: One caught in net of the Sunshine Coast, deceased.

Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin: One caught in a net off Mackay, released alive.

Green Turtle (endangered): Two caught in drum lines off Townsville, both released.

Loggerhead Turtles (endangered): 12 caught mainly on drum lines off Bundaberg, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, all but one released alive.

Manta Ray: Five caught mainly in nets off the Gold coast, all but one released alive.

Cownose Ray: Eight caught in nets between the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, four released alive.

Eagle Ray: Nine caught in nets off the Gold Coast, all released alive

Shovelnosed Ray: Eight caught mainly in nets off the Gold Coast, four released alive.

Humpback Whale: One caught in Gold Coast net, released alive.



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