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Communique 26-27 October 2022

The Shark Control Program Scientific Working Group (the Group) met on 26 and 27 October 2022.

The Group noted general updates from Queensland and New South Wales on their respective programs.

The Group noted and discussed the circumstances of one serious shark bite incident that occurred in New South Wales since the Group met in May 2022. No incidents occurred in Queensland during the same period.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (the department) advised that the Shark Control Program Research Strategy (the Strategy) is under review to complement the Queensland Shark Management Plan 2021 to 2025 and to reflect emerging research priorities. The Group discussed and provided feedback on the current research priorities in the Strategy, noting that monitoring the development of new technologies should be an important ongoing focus. Expanding the social science section to include research about public sentiment, values, knowledge, perceptions, behaviour and personal decision making was discussed. How to best communicate with different audiences (including international visitors) was highlighted as an area needing further investigation. Continuing to investigate options for reducing the impact of the Program on the environment was also raised. Combining genetic analysis, such as close-kin mark-recapture techniques, with tagging and tracking to better understand populations of key shark species was also discussed. Ongoing support for the Queensland acoustic array through the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) was highlighted. The department advised that a revised draft of the strategy incorporating the Group’s feedback will be developed for consultation with the Group.

The Group endorsed the final report ‘A Review of the Shark Control Program Target Shark Species List’ which recommended that white, tiger and bull sharks remain on the target species list (the List). The nineteen shark species currently on the List were assessed against three criteria:

Criteria 1: Is the species known to occur in coastal Queensland waters where the QSCP operates outside of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP)?

Criteria 2: Has the species been associated with unprovoked bite/s resulting in serious injury or fatality in Australia?

Criteria 3: Is the number of unprovoked bites resulting in serious injury or fatality relatively high?

The Group noted the department’s proposed phased approach to implementing the recommendations of the report. In the first phase, species that do not meet criteria 1 and 2 would be immediately removed resulting in the List being reduced to seven species (white, tiger, bull, blacktip (2 species), dusky and grey reef sharks). Phase two involves monitoring incidents until 2025 with a view to further reducing the List to three species at that time (white, tiger and bull sharks).

Some members expressed their concerns about not implementing the recommendations in full immediately. It was pointed out that that grey reef whalers rarely occur outside the GBRMP, don’t grow to a large size and none have been caught in the Program for at least the last 3 years. It was also noted that Australian blacktip sharks reach a maximum length of approximately 1.8m. For dusky sharks, it was discussed that there have only been three bites by this species in Australia, none of which occurred in Queensland, with the most recent incident occurring in 2009. The department advised that the target species list only applies to areas outside of the GBRMP and that sharks on the target species list will continue to be euthanised in accordance with the Queensland Government’s position.

The Group noted the update from the department on the proposed shark barrier trial. The department advised that following a risk assessment and site suitability assessment, beaches in central and north Queensland were assessed as unsuitable. Two beaches in far north Queensland were identified as low risk and most suitable for a shark barrier installation. As the local government did not support a trial of a shark barrier, the trial will not proceed. Some members noted their disappointment with this outcome. The department will continue to monitor advancements in technology regarding shark barriers, including beached based electronic barriers, for future consideration. The Group supported reallocating funding to other trials in the GBRMP, such as expansion of the catch alert drumline trial (subject to review of the initial trial in early 2023).

The Group received a presentation from Flinders University on the results of the testing of personal electronic deterrent devices. The researchers assessed the effects of two products on the behaviour of tiger sharks using bait and compared the results to previous research on bull and white sharks. The Group noted that both devices significantly reduced the number of bites on the bait by tiger sharks by up to 70% (on the baited experimental device), but sharks were not deterred 100% of the time. The Group discussed community sentiment around the use of personal deterrents. The Group will be consulted on the final report (which is currently in preparation) and the department will consider implementation options, noting that incorporation of messaging for high risk users in the SharkSmart education program as a likely outcome.

The Group received a presentation about the Reunion Island Shark Control Program delivered by the Scientific Coordinator for the Centre Sécurité Requin. Reunion Island is a small island in the Indian Ocean located approximately 950km off Madagascar. The history of shark bite incidents in the region that led to the establishment of the Centre and the Program was presented and discussed. The Program currently uses SMART drumlines, operated primarily at night, to target bull and tiger sharks. Research and trials of exclusion nets, deterrent barriers, drones, baited remote underwater video, detection systems and personal deterrent devices were discussed, along with communication and regulatory tools used to minimise risk.

The department provided a presentation on the SharkSmart education program including the evaluation of the 2021-22 campaign. Planned activities for 2022-23 were discussed along with current sponsorships with Sea World, Surf Life Saving Queensland and the Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation, enabling the extension of SharkSmart education to key audiences.

The department provided an update on research and trials delivered, funded or supported by the Program. The Group endorsed an extension of the catch alert drumline trial to June 2023 to enable the trial to continue while the evaluation is underway in early 2023. Community sentiment research about catch alert drumlines was recommended following the scientific evaluation. The Group also discussed the aims and experimental design for a bull shark drumline trial. The aim of the trial is to improve the effectiveness of drumlines for catching bull sharks with the aim of equalling the effectiveness of nets, whilst also minimising bycatch of non-target species. The group supported the trial and noted the implementation process. The group was briefed on a new research project, led by the Department of Environment and Science, investigating the prevalence, movements and behaviour of sharks around North West Island.

The department summarised operations, research and trials within the GBRMP and the Group noted the recent catch data for the GBRMP.

Last updated: Unpublished