Bellinger river just east of Bellingen.  9  SEPT 2015 Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
Bellinger river just east of Bellingen. 9 SEPT 2015 Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

Shark strategy trials under way on Coffs Coast

SMART bouy technology – known as smart drum lines – trials and shark tagging are under way in the Bellinger River as part of the State Government’s rollout of its $16 million shark strategy.

Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey said the trials by a team of shark experts were initial testing of the basic equipment, with a view to trialling the smart drum line technology at suitable locations along the mid-north coast after consultation with local communities.

In a meeting with the Department of Primary Industries this week, Southern Cross University shark expert Dr Daniel Bucher said initial trials would be targeting bull sharks in the river at night where it’s quiet and an accessible environment for researchers.

“At this stage they’re just trying to work out how best to set them and operate with them in the quiet waters in the river, as well as provide those additional tagged sharks,” Mr Bucher said.

The majority of the tagging effort will target bull sharks, the next most responsible for attacks, as white pointers become less common in the summer months as they migrate south.

“They might also target tiger sharks in the summer too. We tend to see them more frequently in summer and again, in the Coffs context, the last fatal attack was by a tiger shark,” Mr Bucher said.

At the meeting, Mr Bucher raised concerns about previous drum line implementation in previous areas, like Reunion Island where they were developed, not being suitable for our open-coast beaches.

“I don’t see that they could be used in quite the same way that they were used in Reunion Island because you can’t really set them on the open ocean overnight because the response time is much lower and you’re going to get a lot of deaths of sharks and other animals caught on those lines,” he said.

However, Mr Bucher was pleased to hear the smart drum line trials at Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach would be conducted during the day, minimising the risk of any harm to animals caught in the lines.

Mr Bucher said he didn’t see the drum lines as a long-term, one-size-fits-all solution for beaches along the NSW north coast and said implementation should be on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m still concerned about a long-term deployment of these things, primarily because of the access issues, but at this stage I’m not as worried about what they’re doing as I was after reading those previous press releases,” he said.

Bull sharks are known to breed in rivers like the Bellinger River, which Mr Bucher said would make moving the sharks out of the area an ineffective solution to reducing encounters with humans.

“If you were to catch them and put them out to sea, you’d either interrupt their breeding or they’d swim back into the river again,” he said.

“I think in the rivers they have to look at them in the same way they look at crocodiles in northern Australia and just accept that they’re there and we have to be cautious about them.”

He said the use of exclusion nets would be a more effective way to ensure swimmers were safe and the sharks’ breeding processes weren’t disrupted.

To find out more visit the Department of Primary Industries website.

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