Data released today by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) revealed that 71% (162) of wildlife caught in the last shark net season were threatened or protected* species, and 76% (123) of these animals were killed. Additionally, 16 Critically Endangered grey nurse sharks were caught, with two found dead and 14 released. This is a serious blow to this fragile species, whose survival is not guaranteed after hours spent stressed in nets.
A staggering 89% (204) of marine animals caught in NSW shark nets during the 2022-2023 season were non-target species such as turtles, rays, dolphins and smaller sharks. Over half of these non-target animals (64%) were killed.
NSW’s Shark Meshing Program sees nets installed on beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong, every September until April. Every beach where a net is installed already has alternative, shark safety measures in place such as SMART drumlines, alert systems and drone surveillance.
This annual data comes at a critical time for the newly elected NSW government, who said they would “support the reassessment of shark nets to move towards non-lethal new technologies1”. Four weeks out from the nets returning to beaches, Humane Society International (HSI) Australia and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) are urging the NSW Government to end the obsolete and destructive shark net program.
Lawrence Chlebeck, Marine Biologist and Campaigner at HSI Australia, said: “These figures tell the same tragic story every year when the NSW shark net data is revealed, and it’s why coastal councils and residents are fed up with the nets.
“Shark nets don’t discriminate. This season, 100% of dolphins and 50% of turtles caught in the nets were killed. How can we continue to justify a program so reckless with our precious marine life?
“Previous governments have viewed this issue through an outdated lens, which is why they blindly relied on 100-year old technology, in the form of nets. Modern solutions are already working and in place after decades of development, so it’s time for the new Minns Government to bring swimmer safety into the 21st century and consign the nets to history.”
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS, said: “Communities want modern-day beach safety standards that improve safety for people and wildlife alike, solutions like drones and the tagging and tracking of animals. Public sentiment and the science are in alignment—come September, the NSW Government should keep the nets out and the drones up.
"The return of shark nets is an abject failure in public safety policy, given that the NSW Government has modern-day solutions in place that improve beach safety for humans and wildlife alike. Political courage is needed for improvements to public safety for everyone at the beach.”
In 2021, all eight NSW local councils with shark nets officially voiced their opposition to shark nets through council motions or through submissions during a consultation process with the NSW Government.
Shark incidents are rare, and nets don’t stop them from happening. Almost half of sharks (40%) are caught in the nets on their way out from the beach2. Additionally, by trapping wildlife right off metropolitan beaches, the nets could even be attracting sharks closer inshore.
Modern, non-lethal mitigation measures such as drone surveillance, alert systems, personal shark deterrents, and Shark Smart behaviour are much more effective at keeping people safe without the cost to wildlife. HSI Australia and AMCS are calling on the NSW DPI to rely on the modern, non-lethal protection programs that they’ve spent the last decade developing, that are already available and in place across our beaches.
*HSI and AMCS define "threatened or protected" as any species listed as threatened under Australian State or Federal legislation, protected under State or Federal legislation, or listed under the international conservation appendices of CITES, CMS, and the IUCN Redlist.
1 NSW Labor’s written response regarding their position on shark nets, to HSI Australia in February 2023 – full letter available here.
2 McPhee, D.P. (2012) Likely Effectiveness of Netting or Other Capture Programs as a Shark Hazard Mitigation Strategy under Western Australian Conditions. Department of Fisheries Occasional Publication No. 108.
Humane Society International (HSI) is the world’s largest animal protection organisation and HSI Australia established our office in 1994. We work to create a humane and sustainable world for animals advocating across wildlife conservation and animal welfare policy areas.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society is Australia’s peak ocean conservation organisation, working on the big issues that put our ocean wildlife and habitats at risk. Since 1965, we have protected critical ocean ecosystems around the nation, including Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef. We are the voice for Australia’s oceans.
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