South West safe shark group rally in Perth

The South West safe shark group were joined by hundreds of people on the steps of Parliament House to call on the state government to take more action on shark mitigation strategies.

South West residents on their way to the South West safe shark group rally in Perth. Image by Carol-lyn Mills.

South West residents on their way to the South West safe shark group rally in Perth. Image by Carol-lyn Mills.

SW safe shark group committee member Keith Halnan said the group formed because of the great white shark problem off the Capes coastline and the threat they imposed on the community.

In recent weeks, there have been increased shark numbers around the Capes due to whale carcasses which have washed in close to shore and the annual salmon run.

On Monday, April 16 two surfers at Gracetown were attacked by sharks in separate incidents and there has been a number of incidents were surfers have been bumped off their boards by sharks.

South West safe shark group committee member Keith Halnan said there was a robust turn out in support of the rally.

The group want the state government to use Shark Management Alert in Real Time drum lines program in the Capes region.

Smart drum lines are used in NSW, and are not designed to kill sharks. Instead a baited hook is attached to a device with a hooked shark putting pressure on a line which triggers an alert.

When an alert is received, response crews take the hooked shark several kilometres out to sea where it is released.

Mr Halnan said the rally was good and they got their point across, but the Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly reiterated the government’s position.

“They are going to blow up the figures to make it look expensive – that’s what will happen.”

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said using figures provided by the department, to install drumlines at these locations and surf breaks it would cost an estimated $50 to $75 million per year.

Mr Kelly said the NSW Government had spent $8.5 million for a small trial of SMART drumlines in NSW and had not committed to funds beyond the trial.

“The McGowan Government has always said it would watch the drumline trials in NSW and await a thorough scientific assessment of their effectiveness in making beaches safer,” he said.

“It is worth noting that despite the extensive use of drumlines and nets on the east coast, there have been about double the number of shark attacks in the last five years compared to shark attack numbers in WA,” he said.

“This includes an attack in February at Kiama Beach and a shark interaction just the other week at Lennox Point, both NSW beaches which are part of the NSW drumlines trial.

“Liberal members have previously called for the deployment of SMART drumlines off beaches where attacks have occurred, Surf Live Saving WA patrolled beaches and additional beaches following consultation with coastal councils.

“Without a scientific assessment, it would not be appropriate for me as a Minister at this time to commit to these drumlines. 

“As I have always said, as a State Government we will continue to look at any new measures backed by thorough scientific evidence.”

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the government could not afford to ignore the concerns of the hundreds of people from South West coastal communities who rallied at Parliament House.

Ms Mettam said speakers at the rally had made passionate pleas for the government to not only consider the human lives being put at risk, but the ongoing damage repeat shark attacks was having on the State’s tourism sector.

“A turnout of more than 300 people at Parliament House today is an indication of the concern across coastal communities and within the surfing, fishing and retail sectors at the McGowan Government’s inaction on this issue,” she said.

“They are angry and feel let down by the McGowan Government given the impact an absence of shark mitigation has made to West Australians’ safety, our tourism potential and our way of life.

“More than 2000 people have also signed a petition calling for the Government to act. Our reputation as a safe, world-class tourism destination is at stake.”

Ms Mettam said research had shown one of the prime drivers for 68 per cent of international visitors that came to WA was our pristine beaches.

“Research shows a five-star surf break can bring up to $2.5 million in extra economic activity to the local communities,” she said.

“The cancellation of this year’s Margaret River Pro alone saw an immediate $5.4 million hit to the local economy.

“News of international surfers not feeling safe at one of our key tourism destinations reached a global audience – BBC alone has an audience of 372 million viewers.

“We’re not asking for anything extraordinary, we are only asking for what other states have delivered for their communities – smart drum lines and monitoring.

“These policies have been a success in QLD and NSW and tourists are choosing to go there, rather than here, where we have seen a 5 per cent reduction in international visitor spend and 12 per cent reduction in interstate visitor spend.”

“The McGowan Government must act now.”

The Conservation Council of WA welcomed a statement from the Fisheries Minister which confirmed the McGowan Government would maintain an evidence based approach to shark safety.

CCWA director Piers Verstegen said the prudent approach was to wait for the results of trials being conducted in NSW before spending taxpayers’ money on solutions that are unlikely to be effective.

“The EPA has already examined the use of drumlines in WA and rejected them on environmental grounds,” he said.

“Any new proposal to kill protected marine life would have to go through a science based process to identify whether it is likely to be effective, and what impact it would have on our marine ecosystems.

“While some media outlets and members of parliament seem to be obsessed by an ideological desire to kill sharks, a prudent and evidence based approach to shark safety from the McGowan Government is welcomed.”