CONSERVATION: Turtles stuck in nets.
CONSERVATION: Turtles stuck in nets. Contributed

Shark nets: wait and see or "haul 'em up”?

TWO months into the NSW government's North Coast shark net trial, by-catch and animal deaths have increased but nobody is known to have been bitten by a shark.

A DPI spokesperson outlined several methods used to monitor community acceptance including meetings, surveys, drop-in centres, interviews and a university social media research project.

"Further information will be provided at the end of the trial,” said the spokesperson.

The Northern Star, in the meantime, continues to receive loud and clear feedback from readers on the trial.

By-catch stats

Since the nets were installed in early December, 110 animals have been caught and 40% have died.

Animals caught were from 14 different species including various sharks, turtles, dolphins, rays and one Longtail (Northern Bluefin) Tuna.

Six species were listed as endangered, vulnerable or protected under state and/or federal environmental law.

Nicole Beynon, Head of Campaigns at Humane Society International, said on Friday "manta rays, turtles and great hammerheads are all globally threatened species and Australia is bound to protect them under a number of international treaties”.

One manta ray was caught and survived in the trial's first month compared to six dead and two alive between January and February and a DPI spokesperson noted warmer waters contributed to a change in North Coast animal populations.

Three of eight turtles caught died and a DPI spokesperson said contractors are now able to tag turtles found alive but did not confirm they were actually doing so.

All 14 netted hammerhead sharks died and most were caught in the second month's warmer waters.

Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said "the NSW government is committed to minimising the impact on marine life while protecting swimmers along the NSW coastline” without further comment.  

Contractors recorded 21 listed animals died after getting caught in nets so far, representing nearly half (47%) of all 44 dead animals and almost one fifth (19%) of total animals caught.

A DPI spokesperson said "the majority of species were released alive” and researchers would wait until the end of the trial to see what monthly data revealed about marine wildlife patterns along the North Coast.

"The increase in deaths of harmless, threatened and protected species killed in the second month of the trial cannot be allowed to be repeated again next month,” said Ms Beynon.

Net checks

DPI authorities said contractors are required to check nets twice daily but weather conditions have stopped them from going out more than 1.4 times per day on average to date.

Campaigners both for and against nets have said more regular net checks are needed to stop trapped wildlife from dying and anti-net spokespeople have said if weather is a constant problem the nets should be hauled up.

Ballina Mayor David Wright said on Friday he understood a contractor planned to get a more suitable boat for net checks and to use an underwater camera to check for trapped animals.

At present, he said, the contractor had a boat too big to cross a bar near the nets and was having to use an inflatable raft before manually lifting nets for inspection.

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