The controversial trial of shark nets on the North Coast has ended early for the second year in a row owing to the earlier than expected start to the whale migration season.
Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair made the announcement today, adding the whale migration was beginning almost a month earlier than usual.
But the nets are coming out almost a month earlier than last year, when the trial ended in the last days of May.
All five nets will be removed from beaches in Ballina and Richmond Valley shires.
Byron Shire refused to participate in the shark net trial owing the large amount of ‘by-catch’, often endangered species, and limited number of target species caught.
Never again: activist
Meanwhile, a marine-life activist has warned of an all-out campaign to prevent the nets ever being reinstalled in North Coast beaches.
Dean Jefferys said he was ‘very happy the shark nets are being removed and trust they will never go back in the waters around here again’.
‘The trials have shown the nets don’t work and only kill marine life many that are already endangered due to mans involvement in the marine eco system.
‘The DPI and everyone else knows there are more effective tools out there to protect swimmers from an unwanted shark encounter like drones and education.
‘It’s now up to the state, federal and local government to promote these alternatives, implement the recommendations of the Senate committee on shark nets and stop relying on the fear and misinformation campaigns they have use in the past to justify the nets.
He also warned there would be a campaign to prevent the nets from going back in the water.
‘If the DPI and Ballina Chamber of Commerce keep perpetuating the shark net lie and reinstall the nets next summer a coalition of marine conservation groups are ready to launch a national and international social media campaign to encourage tourist to not visit beaches and areas with the destructive shark nets,’ he said.
Whale migration moved forward
‘Officially the whale-watching season has been brought forward to May 1,’ Mr Blair told ABC local radio this morning, ‘so that is one of the large contributing factors for us to take the nets out early.’
‘We’ve got through the school holiday period,’ he added.
Last year a whale calf had to be freed from nets on the Gold Coast, which were still in the water in October.
Mr Blair said that the SMART drum lines would remain in place and aerial surveillance from helicopters and drones would continue through the year.
Removal of the nets are expected to begin today and they should all be out of the water by the weekend.
Mr Blair would not be drawn over whether the government planned to continue the trials next summer but did say that community consultation would take place on the North Coast before nets were returned.
‘We’ll be doing another community survey in the coming weeks… because we’ve said all along that we want to continue to take the community along for the journey with us. We’ve continued that stakeholder group with local governments and some of the surf clubs and other interest groups that we regularly talk to.
‘But we’ve also made a big effort to talk to the broader community about what their attitudes are,’ he said.
However, vocal opponents of the use of nets have continued to protest, including at Ballina in January and more recently at the Quiksilver Pro surfing comp on the Gold Coast in March.
In February, Ballina Deputy Mayor Keith Williams came out against the nets, describing them as causing a ‘slaughter of non-target species’.
Ballina Shire remains home to four of the North Coast’s five shark nets. They are at Lennox Head, Sharpes, Lighthouse and Shelley beaches. The fifth net is at Evans Head.
An online and phone community survey will begin next week and there will be a community drop-in stand at Lighthouse Beach on Saturday May 12 where people are encouraged to attend to raise any concerns they may have.