Protecting non-target marine life

The methods developed by the Shark Control Program (SCP) provide a level of human protection, but small numbers of other non-target marine animals, also known as ‘bycatch’ can be caught in SCP equipment. Fisheries Queensland is committed to investigating all avenues to minimise impacts on non-target species.

The Marine Animal Release Team (MART) and SCP contractors are the first line of defence to help release entangled marine life from SCP nets. Other strategies used by the SCP to minimise bycatch include:

  • using drumlines instead of nets when possible
  • releasing non-dangerous sharks alive if possible
  • fitting all nets and some drumlines with the latest technology in electronic warning devices (pingers) to warn whales and dolphins of the presence of the nets
  • using alternative baits or apparatus configurations to reduce dolphin and turtle interactions.

Marine Animal Release Teams (MART)

Fisheries Queensland is committed to minimising impacts on non-target species and has established MART in the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Mackay.

MART consist of staff from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol. MART members are highly trained and their equipment is specifically designed for releasing marine animals from nets. Team members respond and release marine animals (mainly humpback whales) during the whale migration season from May to November.

Surf Life Saving Queensland and the Australian Lifeguard Service’s also provide important support for MART. Life savers and life guards frontline role on beaches means they are often the first to report entanglements, or go out to inspect shark control equipment on jet skis to confirm reports of entanglements from the public.

The Australian Whale Conservation Society and local tourism bodies are currently supporting the MART. Sea World also provides support and expert advice to Fisheries Queensland.

Volunteer whale observers

To support the MART, Fisheries Queensland enlists volunteer whale observers who live in high-rise buildings along Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast beaches who are trained to identify and confirm entanglements.

Information from volunteer whale observers has helped reduce the amount of false reports of entanglements. Early notification is key to successfully freeing an entangled animal. Following a confirmed notification, MART can effectively deploy their resources to give an entangled animal the best chance of survival.

Coastal monitoring cameras

SCP staff access a network of coastal cameras to help monitor shark control equipment and identify entanglements.

Reporting marine life caught in SCP equipment

If you see an animal caught in shark control program equipment or notice equipment has broken free, contact the SCP hotline on 1800 806 891 (free call within Queensland).

If you see marine life caught in other fishing equipment, please contact the Department of Environment and Science on 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

Net replacement trial

Fisheries Queensland engaged Cardno to undertake a thorough analysis of Shark Control Program catch data to inform future equipment trials. View the report by Cardno – Selectivity of nets and drumlines used in the Queensland Shark Control Program.

This report identified opportunities to reconfigure equipment during the winter months with the aim of reducing impacts on whale migration. This was supported by the Shark Control Program Scientific Work Group in March and June 2020.

The Queensland Government acknowledges there are sensitivities in temporarily changing the established configuration of shark control equipment, which has been in place for decades to protect locals and tourists, at a time when the tourism industry is focused on recovering from the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ensure swimmer safety is not compromised, the department will work to identify and implement additional swimmer safety protection measures before progressing changes to equipment.

Shark nets and drumlines will remain in their current configuration during 2020. Options to replace shark nets with drumlines in the future will be considered once additional swimmer safety protection measures are in place.