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Animals caught on baited drumlines and nets lure large sharks closer to swimmers and surfers

WARNING: This article contains images that some people may find distressing.

"The idea of using bait…to attract sharks to beaches that people swim at seems complete

madness" that's the view of the City of Fremantle Mayor, Hannah Fitzhardinge, in Western Australia (WA).

On 8 February 2022, the Mayor discussed the City’s aim to ban shark fishing at beaches due to concerns over shark fishing where Paul Millachip was fatally attacked in November 2021.

There's community support for this ban, particularly after a report of a dead tiger shark found on the ocean bed at Busselton jetty in WA with fishing line attached on 11 February 2022, as well as other reports.

Baiting to catch sharks puts swimmers, divers, surfers and others at risk. This is not new information. Other Councils in WA and the government of South Australia already restrict shark fishing to protect beachgoers. In New Zealand (NZ), there is similar concern that “set netting”, a practice almost identical to shark nets but with a target species of fish, also attracts sharks.

New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) have also reduced or stopped shark fishing at beaches. This is surprising, given that NSW and QLD shark control programs use baited drumlines and nets to lure sharks closer to beaches to catch and kill them.

Infographic showing lethal and non-lethal shark control devices
Call for lethal shark control measures to be replaced with non-lethal shark measures. Image Credit: Action for Dolphins

For those of you who don’t know what a drumline is, it’s a giant baited hook, anchored to the seafloor near beaches, used to catch and kill sharks. Other animals get caught on them too, like dolphins and turtles. Government contractors periodically check drumlines and shark nets, but not often enough.

Dead animals on drumlines and shark nets become bait, as do animals struggling to get free. This attracts sharks and lures them close to beaches. Most drumlines and shark nets are set approximately 500 metres from shore.

Some sharks, like bull sharks, can detect a struggling animal from 1.6km away and blood from a distance of about 0.5km.

None of this happens by accident in QLD and NSW. Baited drumlines and shark nets are usually set close to each other and are designed to attract, catch and kill sharks. Sadly, non-target animals get caught on these killer devices as well, such as turtles, dolphins, seals and harmless shark species.

Shark predated on after being caught in shark nets in New South Wales
Animals caught in shark nets and drumlines become bait and attract sharks close to beaches. Image: obtained under Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 - Ref: GIPA 20-1157, 2019

No one, not even QLD and NSW governments and Ministers, can dispute that a reliable food source attracts sharks. It's a dangerous situation.

For example, as far back as at least 1901, it was known and documented that sewerage runoff and abattoir waste were chief causes of Port Jackson in Sydney Harbour becoming infested with sharks. Food of any kind attracts sharks.

Image of ray: obtained under Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 - Ref: GIPA 20-1157. Image of shark on drumline: obtained under Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) Ref: 19-347

We ask the governments of NSW and QLD to immediately take action to replace shark nets and drumlines with modern non-lethal and non-capture solutions at beaches that fall under shark control programs.

There is no scientific proof that shark nets and drumlines keep beachgoers safe. But there is proof that shark bait brings sharks close to beaches, putting swimmers at risk. Be it the shark fishing happening at WA beaches, set netting placed by fishermen in NZ, or shark nets and drumlines placed by QLD and NSW government departments, we must stop attracting sharks closer to beaches and possibly even habituating them to feed there.

No matter who you are or where you live in the world, your opinion matters. Make it count. It’s the only way this “madness” will ever stop. Find out how.

Further information

11 shark mitigation technologies that better protect swimmers and marine life (2020), Action for Dolphins

A Review of Shark Attacks in the Sydney Region (PDF), by John West Curator, Australian Shark Bite File, Post: May 2015, Taronga Zoo

Calls for shark fishing to be banned off beaches, jetties after dead shark found in Busselton, ABC South West WA, by Jacqueline Lynch, 11 February 2022

Concerns over shark fishing where Paul Millachip was fatally attacked at Fremantle's Port Beach, Article by Nicolas Perpitch, ABC News, 14 January 2022

Drumlines are not effective at keeping beaches safe, Sky News Australia, YouTube video, WA government media conference 2021.

Here's why the City of Fremantle wants to ban shark fishing from its beaches, ABC Radio Perth: WA Afternoons with Christine Layton, 8 February 2022

Fishing closure to protect beachgoers and great whites (2005), NSW Department of Primary Industries

Fishing restrictions for sharks, South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions

Great white sharks in Waihī Beach, Bowentown: Resident warns another fatality could happen - NZ Herald, by Megan Wilson, Bay of Plenty Times, New Zealand, 6 January 2022

Move towards banning shark fishing on popular Fremantle beaches welcomed by shark attack victim Paul Millachip's wife, by Nicolas Perpitch, ABC News, 13 February 2022

Nets Out Now Coalition, founded by Envoy Foundation, Australia

Shark fishing banned on beaches (March 2012), Article by John Newbery, Fishing World

Shark fishing - safety first, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Shark Safety, Surf Life Saving Western Australia

Shark Sensory Facts, Save Our Sharks

Solutions: What could and should we be doing?, Envoy: Shark Cull, documentary website

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