Hundreds of people have braved sweltering temperatures in Ballina, on the New South Wales north coast, to voice their support for a planned six-month shark net trial in the region.
The debate has been raging for months following a number of shark attacks around Ballina and Byron Bay.
Cooper Allen, 17, was attacked at Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach in late September, and there have been two more attacks since.
In response to the attacks, the State Government committed to a six-month shark net trial in the area.
The nets are due to go in at two yet-to-be-determined sites before Christmas.
But president of the Le-Ba (Lennox-Ballina) Boardriders Club, Don Munro, wants the nets rolled out between Brunswick Heads and Evans Head.
“Today is to prove to the Government that there are a lot of people in the community that want nets,” he said.
“Now what we want to know is when, where and how many?”
Mr Munro questioned why the Ballina region had “been discriminated against” in regards to the nets.
“We’ve got 220 kilometres of it down south [between Newcastle and Wollongong],” he said.
“The biggest concentration of [the population] live in that safety zone, 51 beaches are safe and they’ve been in since 1937.”
Local councillor Ben Smith said an unprecedented spate of attacks over the past two years was taking a toll on many in the coastal community.
“We are seeing a decrease in numbers when we look at hotels, we look at retail, we look at tourism,” he said.
Community Divided Over Shark Nets
Two weeks ago hundreds of people gathered at Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach to protest against the netting plan.
Marine rescue volunteer and Ballina councillor Keith Williams labelled the nets a clumsy culling device.
“Shark nets are not a barrier, they’re a fishing device,” he said.
“From [my] perspective they’re a bad fishing device because they have the highest bycatch rate of anything we could use to catch sharks.
“Sharks nets are a culling device, they work by killing sharks … unfortunately they also kill lots of other wildlife.”
At nearby Byron Bay, Greens’ mayor Simon Richardson remains committed to non-lethal strategies such as shark spotting.
“We want to do things that allow us to have our relationship with the ocean, but not actually cause the potential death of marine creatures to allow us to swim and surf,” he said.