Shark Net Plan In New South Wales, Oz Sparks Fears For Marine Life

As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
September 1, 2008: Dozens of shark nets will start going up off beaches from Wollongong to Newcastle from today, but a dispute has broken out about their impact on other marine life.

The nets could kill migrating whales and endangered grey nurse sharks without making swimmers any safer, according to Greens MP Ian Cohen. He was speaking from Byron Bay, which like much of the north and south coasts has no shark net.

However, the State Government argues that the nets are a highly effective way of protecting swimmers.

Mr Cohen yesterday accused Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald of being more interested in appearances than either swimmers or the marine life which becomes tangled in the nets.

“Under the watch of this minister we could lose an apex species, the grey nurse – the labrador of the sea,” Mr Cohen said.

But Mr Macdonald said the timing of the netting was designed to avoid the main whale migration season.

“The Government’s number one priority is to protect NSW beachgoers,” Mr Macdonald said.

“We have had one fatality on a meshed beach in 70 years [since netting was introduced]. Previously in NSW there would be one fatality every year.”

Mr Cohen called on the minister to delay the annual September roll-out of the nets until November 1 when whale migrations would have finished.

Mr Cohen, who is a surfer, said he had seen sagging shark nets off the NSW coast which offered little protection to swimmers. “They sag well below the surface, there is often five meters of clear ocean for sharks to swim over them”.

He said the Government should be looking at electronic devices using Australian technology being trialled off South African beaches to deter sharks.

While Mr Cohen and Mr Macdonald were at loggerheads, among Coogee Beach locals there was no doubt that meshing of beaches works.

Every Sunday in summer the Coogee Minnows keep a watchful eye on the ocean as up to 600 Nippers register for a day of swimming and life saving exercises.

Off the beach a line of floats stretching from Wiley’s Baths to the rocky outcrop of Wedding Cake Island marks the presence of a shark net. It covers only half of Coogee Beach but the Minnows say it’s a welcome sight and have no doubt it works.

For the full story head to The Sydney Morning Herald.