Shark nets have today (September 1) been returned to ocean beaches along the New South Wales coast, where they will remain ensnaring marine life until April, despite the majority of local councils passing motions earlier this year rejecting their continued use in favour of more modern bather protection technology.
Six out of eight council areas that have shark nets on their ocean beaches, namely Northern Beaches, Newcastle, Waverely, Randwick, Central Coast, and Wollongong councils, voted earlier this year to submit to the NSW Department of Primary Industries that they no longer want shark nets deployed on their ocean beaches out of concern for the environmental impacts.
Sydney coastal councils’ aversion towards shark nets is shared by the public. In Department of Primary Industries (DPI) surveys of NSW residents, shark nets consistently finish dead last in a ranking of preferred shark bite mitigation methods.
New South Wales’ Shark Meshing Program, currently consisting of 51 shark nets spanning from Newcastle to Wollongong, has hardly been updated during its 100 years of operation despite significant technological and scientific advancements that have been tested and proven effective in the state.
Shark nets, typically only 150 meters long and 6 meters high, provide a false sense of security for ocean users. Forty percent of sharks are caught on the beach side of the nets  and during the nearly 100 years that shark nets have been in use in NSW, there have been 34 unprovoked human-shark interactions at netted beaches in NSW .
The nets indiscriminately catch marine life, often killing those that become entangled. Even those that are freed suffer from extreme stress and may not survive. Since 2012 the New South Wales nets have caught approximately 3375 marine animals, including threatened species of dolphins, whales, and turtles, killing over 1830 (54%) . Images of non-target species caught in New South Wales shark nets, obtained via FOI, are available here.
Modern solutions to bather protection, including drone surveillance, SMART drumlines, personal shark deterrents, and accessible education programs, are not only more technologically advanced but are also designed with nearly a century of advancements in understanding shark behaviour in mind (see notes to editor for more information).
Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist for Humane Society International, said, “Shark nets are blunt, killing instruments that only offer swimmers a false sense of security. Modern alternatives such as drone surveillance are far more effective at protecting swimmers. We can better protect beach goers without needlessly killing marine wildlife, I’d call that a win-win.”
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said, “Nowhere in our lives, be it schools, hospitals or at work, do we accept 100 year old safety standards. Why should the beach be any different? We need to listen to the science and enact measures that can actually reduce the risk of shark bite.”
Images and videos of wildlife caught in NSW shark nets are available here.
Notes to editor:
- Drones and SMART drumlines have been trialed in NSW with successful results https://www.sharksmart.nsw.gov.au/technology-trials-and-research/smart-drumlines
- Information on public attitudes toward shark control technology is available here showing community sentiment favoured discontinuing the shark nets https://www.sharksmart.nsw.gov.au/technology-trials-and-research/social-research
 McPhee, D. 2012. Likely effectiveness of netting or other capture programs as a shark hazard mitigation strategy in Western Australia