Fisheries criticised for shark inaction

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River local Kieth Halnan.
Camera IconMargaret River local Kieth Halnan. Credit: WA News

Fisheries officers have defended claims of inaction during a shark attack at Lefthanders last month.

South West Safe Shark Group convenor Keith Halnan said a Department of Fisheries boat was close enough to warn surfer Jason Longgrass out of the water due to shark sightings, but did nothing when the attack took place.

Mr Halnan said the incident raised questions about what it took to trigger the State Government’s serious threat policy if a boat stationed nearby took no action.

“This policy, when does it kick in?” Mr Halnan told the Times.

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“The Fisheries boat could have witnessed a fatal attack and not intervened.

“Are they going to admit they were there and witnessed an attack? Where was the duty of care?”

Witnesses said Mr Longgrass refused to leave the water despite the beach closure, but was bitten on the leg only a short time later.

He would not be charged with ignoring the beach closure.

A Fisheries spokesman said the boat was continuing its patrol during the incident and not immediately at the scene.

“Fisheries and Marine Officers actively warned a group of surfers that the beach was closed following an incident and that a shark had been seen in the area,” he said.

“All but one of the surfers returned to the beach.

“Fisheries officers again warned the remaining surfer to leave the water two to three minutes prior to being bitten.

“Despite these warnings, he remained in the water and was ultimately bitten.

“The Fisheries vessel had continued patrolling to clear surfers from an adjacent break, so was not present at the time of the incident.”

Officers said the incident highlighted the importance of following public safety instructions.

“The (serious threat) policy states that a decision to set gear is determined by the (director general) of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, if all other measures aren’t successful in making a beach safe,” the spokesman said.

“In relation to the recent incidents at Gracetown, the primary focus of our Fisheries and Marine officers was public safety, including advising people in and on the water about what had occurred and the beach closures. A range of response measures were put in place, including beach closures, public alerts, water, land and helicopter patrols, and planning was under way to remove the whale carcass from Lefthanders.”

Mr Halnan previous criticised handling of whale carcasses he believed added shark attractants to nearby beaches.

His group has demanded introduction of smart drum lines and towing of rogue sharks away from surf breaks, following the NSW model.

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