Fear and facts: Senate report moves shark cull debate into the 21st century


Greens spokesperson for Healthy Oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who chaired the Senate Environment and Communications Committee’s inquiry into “Shark mitigation and deterrence measures”, provides the following comments on the release of the inquiry report (https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environm...). Senator Whish-Wilson, an avid surfer, established this Inquiry following concerns that great white sharks were likely to be delisted from EPBC protection and the impending new roll outs of shark nets in northern NSW without any federal environmental impact assessments.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “This report is the culmination of 10 public hearings right around the Australian coastline from Perth, around to Cairns. We heard from ecologists, local communities, agencies, surf- life saving organisations, first-responders and shark bite victims. This is the most comprehensive report on shark encounter risk and mitigation methods carried out in Australia.

“There is a pressing need for policy-makers across the country to consider how to respond to shark bites objectively and critically, using evidence-based approaches. That is what this report attempts to do, without fear or favour.

“Diverging from this practice is not in the public interest, or the interest of the environment.

“When I set out to establish this inquiry I said I wanted to take the fear and loathing out of what is a heated and highly politicised matter of public interest, and lay out sensible ways forward to better manage risk to ocean-goers of rare shark encounters, while reducing the significant devastation to marine life from shark nets and other lethal control methods.

“The Committee heard that contrary to public perception, shark nets do not seek to enclose beaches to prevent sharks accessing beaches, but rather seek to entangle and kill sharks. In the process the nest also catch and kill marine life like turtles, dolphins and whales, and endangered sharks like the Grey Nurse Shark.

“We heard no evidence that shark nets remove or materially reduce the risk of shark bites. Recently one attack occurred on a netted beach on the Central Coast and attacks are more related to the absence of surf-life saving patrols rather than the presence of nets.

“What is clear to me is that the hodge-podge of policies around the country is guided by politics, rather than by evidence and consultation. The committee heard repeated evidence that unduly sensationalist media reporting during interactions not only re-traumatised shark bite victims, it also created a community atmosphere which made it difficult for decision makers to introduce evidence-based policy.

“The major recommendation of this report is that technology is rapidly developing in terms of personal and whole-of-beach scale deterrence devices and along with drones and phone-apps this allows us to set a timeline for the full withdrawal of shark nets around the country.

“The Committee has also concluded that any state currently using fixed lethal drum lines should immediately replace them with smart drumlines, to reduce the impact on marine life and also to gather better evidence about shark ecology. This is especially the case within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has a suite of policy measures at his command to reduce the risks from shark encounters and also to reduce unnecessary fear in the community but he has totally lacked leadership. He has mis-used a loophole in the EPBC Act to avoid a full environmental assessment process for shark nets, while badgering states to look only at lethal shark measures despite all the evidence-based non-lethal methods at his disposal.

“He needs to look at steps like standardising signage and warnings across the states, testing and accrediting deterrence devices and convening a working group for experts to guide a uniform approach to policy around the country.

“Given the intense politicisation of debate about this issue, this report has gone through an unusual step of outlining the major shark-related myths and discussing whether those myths have any basis using evidence presented throughout this inquiry. These include that:

  • The shark population has exploded
  • Sharks target humans as prey
  • Killing ‘rogue’ sharks will solve the problem
  • The presence of sharks in an area mean that an attack is likely
  • Lethal measures stop human-shark encounters
  • The closure of a shark fishery in WA has led to shark attacks

“I want to thank all the participants in this inquiry: the scientists, the community members and the shark bite victims who all engaged in this inquiry in good faith. I hope this report provides the blueprint for a way forward for safer oceans for humans and our marine life,” he concluded.

Inquiry report here: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environm...

Media Release Healthy Oceans