The Federal Government has announced its decision regarding the Western Australian shark bait and kill initiative. Minister Greg Hunt is allowing the state agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the State Government’s policy to install drum lines from 15 November to 30 April for the next three years.
The Western Australian EPA and the State Government were recently found to have acted illegally in the assessment and approval process regarding a gas project in the state’s northwest, in Broome.
Natalie Banks, the founder of the community movement #noWAsharkcull and shark campaigner for Sea Shepherd has stated that based on previous history, there is little faith that a state agency will fairly assess a state government’s policy.
“The Western Australian public has already seen a situation where the Supreme Court needed to intervene in order to protect our local environment, and therefore there is very little confidence in the State’s EPA making a decision in support of our marine wildlife and the health of our oceans,” Natalie said.
“I am grateful that Minister Hunt has requested that he will make the final decision based on the information provided by the State’s EPA, but I question the independence a state-run agency has regarding a State Government policy.”
The news comes as the Western Australian Fisheries Department released its final report for the shark baiting and killing initiative, claiming the programme a success. Overall, the program ensnared 180 marine animals, of which 172 were sharks, seven were stingrays and one northwest blowfish was caught. Of the 172 sharks captured, the large majority were tiger sharks (163) with one bull shark, a spinner shark, five federally protected mako sharks and one undetermined species of shark caught.
Sixty-seven sharks were killed or found dead on the drum lines and 18 of these were smaller than the targeted size of three metres and above in length, representing 27% of the sharks that died as a result of the program.
Of the marine life that was captured by the drum lines, 71% were non-targeted or by-catch species. Given these statistics, and the fact that the main target of the initiative was the Great White Shark, Sea Shepherd finds it abominable that the WA Government would claim the programme a success.
The Government has failed to consider the long term affects of removing sharks from local ecosystems. It has failed to recognise the importance sharks play in the health of our oceans and it has failed to acknowledge suitable alternatives that are available to protect ocean lovers and marine life.
Furthermore, the Government has learnt very little from this programme. Cattle tags were used instead of electronic or acoustic tags, which would have provided a wealth of information for future mitigation strategies. With the number of tiger sharks caught, it could be that there is a tiger shark nursery within the Perth metropolitan area.
Sea Shepherd has been liaising with various members of parliament and has urged the Liberal Government to consider alternatives such as the Eco Shark Barrier, which was installed at a local metropolitan beach until recently due to a lack of funding and an inability to secure a permit. Additionally, the Shark Spotters programme in Cape Town has proven to be very popular with surfers and could easily be introduced to the Western Australian coast. Both of these measures do not kill or injure protected and vulnerable marine species.
A number of scientific studies have demonstrated that the depletion of sharks results in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species down the food chain, including key fisheries such as tuna that maintain the health of coral reefs. One particular study in the United States indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in an increase of cow-nose rays, which feed on scallops. Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into decline when sharks have been overfished, destroying entire ecosystems. The downstream effects are frightening; without sharks controlling the food chain balance, the oceans could become overrun with algae, drastically reducing oxygen quantities in our atmosphere. The knock on effects of this could be devastating for all life on Earth.
It is time the Western Australian and Federal Governments listen to science rather than fear when considering ways to reduce shark bite.