Shark trial ‘designed to fail’

Warren Hately & Taylar AmoniniAugusta Margaret River Times
FOR THE WEST AUSTRALIAN - First day of the smart drumline trials off the coast of Gracetown PICTURED- Keith Halnan, quite outspoken in support for the drumlines
Camera IconFOR THE WEST AUSTRALIAN - First day of the smart drumline trials off the coast of Gracetown PICTURED- Keith Halnan, quite outspoken in support for the drumlines Credit: The West Australian, Daniel Wilkins

Fisheries Minister Don Punch says discontinuing the SMART drum line trial off the Gracetown coast will benefit ocean users who might otherwise have a false sense of confidence about encounters with great whites.

Last week’s decision to scrap the long-running trial was met with criticism by those who had argued the program was never properly implemented and was always going to be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

South West Shark Group convenor Keith Halnan has long argued the trial was designed to fail by a government which did not want to tackle the region’s shark problems.

Mr Halnan said the trial was an expensive political operation only benefiting the contractor, and surfers were accustomed now to ignoring warning sirens.

“The SMART drum line program was a political solution to appease the public backlash to the run of fatal attacks,” Mr Halnan told the Times. “There was never any genuine attempt to capture the targeted great whites.”

As reported previously, Mr Halnan and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the NSW program which inspired the response was never fully implemented, with ongoing disagreement about baits. “The public should be appalled by the misuse of money in the trial,” Mr Halnan said.

“Any fisherman would tell you if you’re not catching your targeted species to try other baits.

“This basic denial to try a proven bait for large great whites is astounding (and) the lack of information on any gear failure also is a major concern. “

In its place, the funds will go towards extending the shark tagging program and supporting beach closures during shark sightings.

Tagging sharks will continue, contributing to data collected by WA’s Chief Scientist, who recommended the trial’s end after a previous extension.

Mr Punch confirmed the Payne family’s extended contract monitoring the drum linehad now ended.

“The SMART drum line trial successfully fulfilled its purpose as there is now scientific evidence establishing SMART drum lines do not effectively reduce the risk posed by white sharks, and funding can be directed to demonstratively effective shark mitigation initiatives,” Mr Punch said.

“The last thing we want to do is give ocean-goers a false sense of security by continuing to deploy SMART drum lines that the Chief Scientist has concluded are ineffective at mitigating the risks posed by white sharks.”

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development said it would continue tagging sharks in areas of known activity, “utilising attractants such as whale carcass or pink snapper congregations to target, capture, tag and release white sharks”.

“A key aspect to the success of this program is the Statewide mobility of the tagging team, which provides the scope to undertake tagging from Geraldton to Esperance at different times of the year,” it said.

Ms Mettam decried the program as “a complete waste of taxpayers’ money”. “Issues that they have failed to replicate from the NSW trials include bait, target species and the number of VR4 receivers which provide real-time alerts ensuring the public are aware of tagged sharks in the area,” she said.

More action was still needed to address sharks attracted to whale carcasses along the Capes coastline, she said.

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