A sign at Lighthouse Beach advising visitors of the shark net trial.
A sign at Lighthouse Beach advising visitors of the shark net trial. Courtesy of the NSW Department o

Shark nets left unchecked for up to 48hrs

A BALLINA Shire councillor has reignited calls for twice daily checks of shark nets on the North Coast after changes to the trial now allow contractors up to 48 hours to check the nets.

Jeff Johnson has lodged a notice of motion to implore councillors at Thursday's meeting to put pressure on the department and State Government to reinstate twice daily checks.

He accused the Department of Primary Industries of "a total lack of commitment to adhere to those undertakings", which Cr Johnson said were promised to council at the beginning of the trial two years ago.

The department's bycatch data for the five netted beaches at Ballina, Lennox and Evans Heads reveals that the nets were never checked twice daily during the first net trial between December 2016 and May 2017.

Checks at Evans Head were the most regular with the nets checked 49 times over a 30 day period in April/May last year.

The NSW North Coast Sharkmeshing Trial Final Report published last August found poor seas and dangerous river-bar conditions were among difficulties that prevented contractors from checking the nets twice a day.

It also found that the total survival rates of bycatch "were comparable between 24- and 48-hour checks, but declined after 72 hours".

"When considered with the relationship between catches and net checks, the data support (sic) checking the net no sooner than every 48 hours to reduce the mortality of bycatch," the report stated.

Those findings have transpired in the management plan for the second shark net trial, which began in November last year.

The plan stated net checks would now be required every 12-48 hours of being placed in the water depending on weather conditions, a department spokeswoman confirmed.

But Cr Johnson, who wasn't aware of the check changes, said 14 checks at all five nets throughout the 27-day period last month was still unacceptable and that animals should not be left to struggle for hours at a time.

The department spokeswoman said it was testing larger mesh net sizes and positioning the nets at different heights in the water in a bid to improve survival of air-breathing animals that become entangled in the nets.

Cr Johnson also argued that struggling animals may even attract sharks to the nets, defeating their purpose to protect swimmers.

The department spokeswoman did not respond when asked if bycatch caught in the nets could attract predators.

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