Shark control program continues in Marine Park

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has issued approval to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to continue its shark control program at specified beach locations in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The renewed 10-year joint Marine Parks permit comes with a list of conditions including the requirement to establish a scientific working group that will be responsible for providing advice to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on research to reduce non-target catch in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The scientific group will also prioritise the investigation of non-lethal technologies as an alternative means of ensuring swimmer safety within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

The permit includes permission to conduct the program in the Commonwealth Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Queensland Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park (the Marine Parks). It also provides permission to conduct an associated research program.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries operates the $3 million per annum shark control program near 85 popular beaches along the Queensland coast, including 27 beaches in Cairns, Townsville–Magnetic Island, Mackay, Capricorn Coast and Gladstone — all of which are in the Marine Parks. In total, the program covers 7.5 kilometres (0.3 percent) of Marine Park coastline.

Marine Park Authority’s Director Dr Kirstin Dobbs said the decision to grant the permit took into account the likely impact of the program on Marine Park values, as well as public safety.

Until recently, the program has used a combination of drumlines — baited shark hooks suspended from a plastic float — and surface-set large mesh nets to protect swimmers from sharks. In 2017, the Department removed the last two nets from the Marine Parks which have been permanently replaced with drumlines.

“A key factor in providing approval was the removal of nets from the program which will substantially reduce bycatch,” Dr Dobbs said.

“The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s long-standing position, which is consistent with the 1997 Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council decision, is that where possible all nets should be replaced with drumlines so long as bather safety is not likely to be compromised. This has now been achieved.

“The removal of nets from the program means the catch of non-target species should be further reduced as well as increasing the live release of non-target marine animals.

“We have worked closely with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries over a number of years to improve the program to reduce impacts to non-target species. We will continue to work with them, as a member of the scientific working group, as they trial new technologies with the aim of protecting swimmers as well as non-target species and sharks”.

“We were also very mindful of public safety and the fact that there have been no shark fatalities in the areas where the program has been operating since 1962.”

Public consultation was undertaken in 2015 providing an opportunity for the community to comment on the program, which resulted in 157 submissions and 5572 campaign style submissions.

“A number of submissions recognised the program may take time to change and were very supportive of a staged approach to reducing unintended impacts,” Dr Dobbs said.

Research conducted through the program will include marine animal tagging and tracking and trialling methods to improve the effectiveness of the program and minimise bycatch.

The permit conditions include the public release of all catch information every two months — allowing for public scrutiny of the program’s impacts and the public release of advice the Department receives from the scientific working group.

Information related to the permit approving the shark control program and associated research program — including the assessment report and statement of reasons — is available on the Marine Park Authority’s website.