Mixed feelings on drum lines test

Daniel Mercer and Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Capes surfers have reacted with cautious optimism to a new State Government plan to test smart drum lines off Gracetown, though many — including the State Opposition — say the trial does not go far enough.

Surfers speaking to the Times questioned why it took so long to cut through the political stalemate around sharks after the Margaret River Pro was cancelled in April after two separate, unrelated shark attacks.

Meanwhile, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and Vasse MLA and fellow Liberal Libby Mettam said the trial should be extended. “While I welcome this trial as a first step, I am concerned that the implementation of smart drum lines in only one location is potentially just a stop-gap measure to ease public pressure,” Ms Mettam said.

South West Safe Shark Group convenor Keith Halnan said the Government should be applauded for listening.

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But he lamented the time and trouble it had taken Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly to change his mind, saying he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the decision.

“It’s not exactly what we’re after,” Mr Halnan said. “I’d like to see a comprehensive smart drum-line program with high spectral camera drones running up and down the coastline. There’s a lot more to be done, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Alex Travaglini, who was bitten by a white pointer while surfing at Cobblestones in April, said he had “mixed feelings” about the news.

He said the trial was a positive because it showed the Government was “at least doing something” but voiced concern about it being a “knee-jerk” policy response.

What was needed, Mr Travaglini said, was a comprehensive strategy to minimise the risk of shark attacks, which should include rolling out the drum lines across a broader area.

“I think it’s positive in a way because it’s at least doing something but whether it’s the best thing they could be doing, I’m not convinced,” he said.

“And I’m surprised they decided to change their minds when they were pretty clear in their stance previously in regards to smart drum lines.”

Other surfers told the Times they wanted to know how soon the trial would come into effect, what resources would go into it, and how the Government would avoid the shortcomings of the previous baited drum-line response which failed to catch great whites.

Sessions Surf Shop owner Nick Haslau said the program might help address tourism problems hitting the local economy.

Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman said the program needed to go into effect at once, saying any delay would further damage confidence among locals and visitors.

“Businesses in Margaret River and surrounding communities have taken a hit since the dual attack in April,” he said.

Mr Kelly said the trial would focus on catching and releasing sharks as in NSW, but criticised the east coast data. “The McGowan Government is open to any shark mitigation measure that is backed up by science,” he said.

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