November 30th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Can we put the 'care' back into aged care?

EDITORIAL Bushfires: One step forwards, one step backwards

ENVIRONMENTALISM Activists and courts give sharks the last laugh

CANBERRA OBSERVED ALP's self-examination will entice no one back

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal to go to the High Court

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Deaths after Fukushima due to excessive caution

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Geopolitics, oligarchs and the Moldova miracle

ENVIRONMENT Into the unknown: Should we prepare for climate change or climate variability?

LAW AND SOCIETY Crime and punishment: Are we de-civilising?

WATER POLICY Drought relief still leaves too much water going to waste

ASIAN AFFAIRS Destination Oz: Flood of Hong Kong emigres may restart

HUMOUR MacStuttles, me ol' China

MUSIC Subliminal workhorse: An art takes the backseat

CINEMA Dr Sleep: Kubrick 'shined' from his rest

BOOK REVIEW Science and religion, with mutual respect

BOOK REVIEW A borrowed term for a socialist recipe



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong voters reject Beijing and its proxies

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Activists and courts give sharks the last laugh

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, November 30, 2019


  • Federal Court has upheld ruling that prevents sharks being killed on the Great Barrier Reef
  • 160 drum lines have been removed, endangering beachgoers
  • Safety of catch and release from “smart” drum lines is unproven

On October 29, two more people were attacked by a shark at the Whitsunday Islands on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, bringing the number of people attacked in the area in 13 months to seven, including one fatality and several who lost limbs.

In April this year, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) ruled that the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) could no longer kill 19 species of shark in the protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park after the Humane Society International (supported by the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO)) launched a legal challenge to the department’s shark control program. The program consists of baited hooks (drum lines) and nets that aim to catch and kill or deter dangerous sharks in the vicinity of swimmers at beaches.

Routinely, sharks caught in the drum lines died and were disposed of. As a result of the court’s ruling, the requirement is that sharks be attended to as soon as they are caught and be released alive back into the water.

The Queensland Government appealed the decision of the AAT to the Federal Court, which upheld the AAT’s ruling despite inconclusive evidence in relation to proving the shark control program caused environmental damage. The court found “that it is not necessary that serious or irreversible environmental damage has actually occurred – it is the threat of such damage that is required”; and that the AAT “proceeded on the basis that there was a threat of serious environmental damage but lack of full scientific certainty”.

So, rather than rely on evidence, the mere threat of damage to the environment from the shark control program was deemed enough to rule against it. Sounds a bit like the “we must act now to stop a climate emergency” mantra, despite no evidence that it is occurring.

The fact is that the DAF’s shark control program has reduced fatal shark attacks. In a submission to the Environment and Communications References Committee in 2017, the department wrote that “only one fatal shark attack has been recorded at a beach serviced by the program” since the program was introduced; whereas, “prior to 1962, regular shark attacks occurred on popular Queensland beaches and made them unsafe for recreation”.

Moreover, of the 48 fatal shark attacks in Queensland and NSW in the last 100 years, 46 occurred at beaches where no bather protection measures were in place. For two courts to agree with the animal activists and claim this statistic proves nothing, is sheer insanity.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) stretches from Cape York in the north to Rules Beach near Bunda­berg in the south, and extends several hundred kilometres out into the Coral Sea. It covers 344,400 square kilometres, more than 1½ times the size of Victoria.

Therefore, the number of sharks caught by drum lines on a limited number of beaches is likely to be minuscule in relation to the total number of sharks within the park; not to mention that sharks constantly move in and out of the park boundaries. In fact, eastern white sharks have been monitored travelling between Queensland’s Capricorn Coast and Victoria’s Bass Strait, and east to Tonga, 3,500 kilometres away.

With a few exceptions, particularly around ports and industrial areas, the GBRMP hugs 2,300 kilometres of the Queensland coastline on its western boundary, taking in popular tourist beaches from Port Douglas in the north to Agnes Water in the south.

In response to the ruling, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said: “Our shark control contractors and staff are neither trained nor equipped to safely handle live sharks, tow them away from beaches and then release them alive … Human life comes first. That’s why I won’t put our staff and contractors in harm’s way by asking them to perform dangerous work without being fully trained and equipped.”

As a result, 160 drum lines have been removed from 27 Queensland beaches within the Park, exposing water-goers to a heightened risk of attack. Among the beaches affected are four beaches north of Cairns, six beaches on Magnetic Island off Townsville, three beaches near Mackay and eight beaches on the Capricorn coast, including Yeppoon.

“Smart” (“shark management alert in real time”) drum lines, which electronically alert authorities that marine life is caught on the line and must be released, will be the only method available to prevent sharks interacting with swimmers.

Reunion Island, a French department in the Indian Ocean, had the highest per-capita rate of fatal shark attacks between 2011 and August 2015 before “smart” drum lines, which were developed on the island, were installed. The protocol there is to kill large tiger and bull sharks that have been caught, not release them back into the water alive. Nets are also used. Some had estimated the cost of every shark attack on lost tourism revenue in Reunion to be €1 million ($A1.62 million).

In Recife, Brazil, a shark catch-and-release strategy from “smart” drum lines has reduced attacks at the beach there but increased the number of attacks on an adjacent beach. Common sense would dictate that if you keep releasing dangerous sharks back into the ocean, they will come back, either in the same place or nearby, to pose a threat to swimmers.

The Queensland Government has asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to change federal laws to allow traditional drum lines to be used within the GBRMP.

If shark attacks, lethal or otherwise, occur at those beaches where drum lines have been removed as a result of this court ruling, one would rightly expect victims or their families to launch legal proceedings seeking compensation for any losses.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm