UPDATE, 5pm: NSW Police media have issued a statement on the mystery of the tampered drum lines.
“About 9.20am on Wednesday morning, Richmond police were contacted by Ballina Fisheries regarding a suspicious vessel in the vicinity of the eco drum lines (off) Lighthouse, Shelley and Angels Beach,” a police media spokeswoman said.
“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.”
Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair also issued a statement on the incident.
“The NSW Government’s strategy is about using new technology to better protest beachgoers with the least impact as possible to our precious marine environment,” Mr Blair said.
“We want to roll out these smart drumlines as quickly as possible to help reduce the risks to bathers.”
“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.”
ORIGINAL STORY: ‘SMART’ drum lines off Ballina’s Lighthouse and Sharpes beaches are believed to have been tampered with, according to a spokeswoman for Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair.
Suspicion over the alleged incident has fallen on marine activist group Sea Shepherd, who have denied the claim.
Local Department of Primary Industries staff checked the drum lines yesterday morning and found the bait was gone after receiving an alert from the lines.
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.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling organisation, which is against the use of the drum lines, was being “closely watched” following the alleged incident.
A Sea Shepherd crew of two along with Ballina marine ecologist Jann Gilbert had inspected the drum lines early yesterday morning about the same time that the line alerts went off.
But Ms Gilbert, who was there in a “representative capacity” on behalf of local volunteer organisation 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.
“It’s simply a beat up,” she said of the allegations that Sea Shepherd was somehow involved.
“That’s not what we were there for, we were there to monitor and take footage of the lines.
“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.”