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Communique 24 and 25 August 2021

The Shark Control Program Scientific Working Group (the Group) met on 24 and 25 August 2021.

The Group received an update on the draft Queensland Shark Management Plan 2021-25 (the Plan). The Plan was amended to address feedback received from Group members and during an internal government consultation process. The Plan is progressing through an internal approval process.

Members were advised that the Shark Control Program (the Program) has received additional funding to:

  1. cover the increased cost of delivering the Program in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on an ongoing basis
  2. provide ongoing funding for the SharkSmart drone trial/program
  3. to temporarily engage a contractor to review the end-to-end data management processes.

The Group was advised that no decision had been made about the proposed net replacement trial so there would be no changes made to the configuration of equipment during 2021. The Group will be further consulted about the proposed trial for 2022. The Group discussed claims made that the Program has increased its footprint since the commencement of the EPBC Act. Fisheries Queensland advised that the basis for these claims was unclear.

Fisheries Queensland advised that Dr Daryl McPhee was contracted to compile a range of information to inform a review of the target species list. Members noted that target species are euthanised and the target species list only applies to the operation of the Program outside of the GBRMP. Dr McPhee presented information about species occurrence in Queensland, incidence of unprovoked bites and severity of bites with a focus on those resulting in serious injuries or fatalities. The Group was invited to provide feedback on the draft report and application of the criteria used to develop the revised target species list. Members were also invited to provide advice on possible issues and risks for Fisheries Queensland to consider. NSW Fisheries advised that species targeted by the NSW program were refined over time eventually resulting in only white, bull and tiger sharks being targeted since 2016. Data quality was discussed, including the accuracy of species identification in official shark bite records and how this might be considered during the review. Members emphasised that future species identification could be improved through routine screening of genetic samples that are now being collected across the program. The Group also discussed provisioning (intentional/unintentional feeding) of sharks which may increase the risk of shark bite. Shark bites in response to provisioning would normally be considered ‘provoked’, however the person bitten may not have been involved in the provisioning behaviour. The Group recommended that the potential impact of climate change on species’ distributions be considered and the conservation status of species is acknowledged. The Group discussed issues around future shark bite incidents and how these might be assessed to inform future decisions about the target species list.

The Group noted and discussed the circumstances of several serious shark bite incidents that occurred in New South Wales since the previous meeting and noted that no serious shark bite incidents had been recorded in Queensland since the previous meeting.

The Group noted a Marine Species Protection Symposium was hosted by Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation (NBRF). The aim of the Symposium was to identify alternative shark bite mitigation technology suitable for trial in Noosa in line with UNESCO objectives. The Group noted and discussed the symposium report and recommendations for the following measures to be trialled in the Noosa Shire, ranked in order of preference (1) Education; (2) Drones; (3) SMART drumlines; (4) Seasonal removal of nets. Fisheries Queensland advised that a trial of targeted education in the Noosa Shire in line with the SharkSmart education program could be facilitated. This initiative was supported by the Group. The Group supported a trial of drones on Noosa Main Beach and Fisheries Queensland advised the site could be included in the next phase of the SharkSmart drone trial, subject to local government approvals. The Group noted advice that some constituents in the Noosa community are opposed to the use of drones on local beaches, with concerns relating to noise and privacy. Further, the Noosa Shire Council has not approved the operation of drones by SLSQ at Noosa to date. The Group recommended a demonstration be offered to Noosa Shire Council. The Group did not support a trial of SMART drumlines at Noosa if the Queensland Government’s policy of euthanising target shark species (outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) would apply. The Group noted that nets are generally more effective at catching bull sharks than traditional drumlines at some locations and that traditional drumlines would likely be more effective than SMART drumlines for catching bull sharks as SMART drumlines are only set during daylight hours for work health safety reasons. The Group discussed options to better target bull sharks with traditional drumlines which could then be considered by government as an alternative to nets which are associated with greater levels of non-target catch. The Group also discussed using hook timers on drumlines and nets to determine when bull sharks are caught. Members noted their support for a trial to replace some nets with drumlines during the whale migration period.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the SharkSmart education program. An overview of the upcoming SharkSmart 2021/22 campaign was provided, centred around a plan of SharkSmart messages targeted to different water users in different geographic areas of Queensland. The campaign is based on three pillars:

  1. advertising during school holiday periods (a key time of water use for locals and tourists)
  2. SharkSmart messages targeted to geographic area and type of water based activity
  3. contingency messages for when unplanned risks arise.

Fisheries Queensland sought feedback on draft SharkSmart messages for swimmers; surfers; snorkellers/divers; spearfishers; fishers and boaties to be incorporated into the SharkSmart web page. Fisheries Queensland provided an overview of the SharkSmart sponsorship with Sea World Gold Coast. SharkSmart messages will be incorporated into the Shark Bay exhibit and used in a new education trail for school groups visiting Sea World. The Group was supportive of the future approach to the SharkSmart campaign and the Sea World exhibit and education trail.

The Group received an update on research and trials delivered, funded or supported by the Program. The SharkSmart drone trial commenced in September 2020 in South East Queensland with two North Queensland sites added in June 2021. The trial will be evaluated in late 2021 with results informing the next phase of the trial/program. The catch alert drumline trial will be commencing soon on the Capricorn Coast. Planning for the barrier trial will recommence soon. Flinders University has been appointed, following an open tender process, to deliver research into the effectiveness of personal electric shark deterrent devices on tiger sharks with field work to commence later this year. The program continues to maintain acoustic receivers at Program locations to support the Queensland coastal telemetry array and is supporting several research projects conducted by University researchers and postgraduate students through the provision of specimens and biological samples. The Group discussed reviewing the research priorities at a future meeting.

Fisheries Queensland summarised operations, research and trials within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Group noted the recent catch data for the GBRMP. The Group noted that following three shark bites at North West Island over a four-month period from December 2019 to April 2020 and reports of continuing shark provisioning behaviour by visitors to the island, Fisheries Queensland and the Department of Environment and Science (DES) have collaborated on an approach to reduce shark bite risk in the area. In April 2021, DES banned the dumping of fish frames, scraps and bait in waters around the island through the declaration of a Special Activity Area (SAA) around the island which extends for approximately three nautical miles. A Communication and Engagement plan has been developed to boost education and SharkSmart behaviour at North West Island and to educate visitors about the SAA. DES advised that a research project is in development involving tagging and tracking of sharks to better understand shark behaviour in the region. The Group noted feedback from the Whitsundays sub-group supporting the proposed shift to advisory, icon-based signage in Cid Harbour, similar to that in use at North West Island.

NSW Fisheries provided an update on the program in NSW. Members noted that VR4G listening stations, drones and the netting program are continuing in 2021/22. Further details of the 2021/22 program are yet to be announced by the NSW Government. NSW Fisheries continues to operate under a Memorandum of Understanding with NSW Police and Surf Life Saving NSW for shark incident response. NSW Fisheries has piloted a community support program in partnership with Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) and ‘Bite Club’ to respond to shark bite incidents. RAMHP counsellors and psychologists provide mental health support, while NSW Fisheries staff provide information about sharks and shark mitigation, with ‘Bite Club’ members providing emotional peer support. Feedback on the initiative has been mostly positive and constructive with NSW Fisheries seeking to formalise an arrangement with RAMHP and ‘Bite Club’ to deliver future programs.

The Group discussed recent media attention relating to the use of terminology by government departments involved in shark bite mitigation. The Group supported the use of terminology such as ‘shark bite’ and ‘incidents’ by the Program, as opposed to ‘attacks’ which can sensationalise the issue, noting that individuals can make their own decisions about the language they use.

The Group discussed the development of bite proof wetsuits, noting that NSW Fisheries has invested some funding into the development and testing of some materials.

The next meeting is planned for late November/early December 2021.

Last updated: Unpublished