Conservationists decry NSW shark net trial after protected species caught and killed | Environment

New South Wales shark nets caught just one targeted shark but continued to kill protected species this summer, a result environmentalists have described as “unfathomable”.

Figures released this week from a trial of shark nets on northern NSW’s beaches show they have caught a single bull shark in November and December.

The nets caught no tiger or white sharks – the two other species they are aimed at – but did kill a series of turtles, rays and other sharks. The nets also caught a critically endangered grey nurse shark, although it was released alive.

chart

Humane Society International marine scientist Jessica Morris said the results showed the trial was “a complete disaster”.

“Just as we feared, the nets have now captured a critically endangered grey nurse shark, more threatened and protected marine turtles, and an array of other harmless sharks and rays,” Morris said.

“While the grey nurse shark was released alive from the nets, this species is highly susceptible to post-release mortality due to the stress of such an event.”

The current trial is the second of its kind run by the state government at five beaches at Ballina and Evans Head. In the first trial, just nine of the 275 animals caught, or about 3%, were targeted sharks.

The second trial was designed to reduce harm to bycatch, by using nets with a different design at different heights. The data suggests a very slight reduction in the overall number of animals caught than in the first trial.

The trials rely on legal exemptions granted by the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg. Morris said the data should prompt a removal of that exemption.

“The federal environment minister needs to rethink his decision to allow shark nets and focus on his real job which is to ensure our endangered species are protected,” she said.

“Shark attacks are not the norm – they are traumatic but they are rare, and we need to realise that nets are doing more harm than good.”

Frydenberg, however, said public safety was of “paramount importance”.

“NSW’s shark net trials are being undertaken in accordance with national environmental law,” he told Guardian Australia.

The NSW state minister for primary industries, Niall Blair, said the recently released data was an “important part of testing the north coast net trial”.

“The second trial is one part of an overall shark management strategy being implemented by the NSW government, including Smart drumlines, helicopter surveillance, shark tracking and VR4G listening stations,” Blair said.

“The NSW government is committed to trialling and testing the best technology in the world to address shark attacks in NSW and will continue to work closely with local communities and all affected stakeholders.”

Nets are more regularly used off 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle.

The majority of marine animals caught in those nets were not dangerous sharks. Last season, the nets caught 56 endangered or vulnerable marine species.

Six greynurse sharks were killed by the nets.

graph