Communique 12 March 2020

The Shark Control Program Scientific Working Group met in Brisbane on 12 March 2020 for its 7th meeting.

Changes to the terms of reference for the group were discussed enabling the role of the group to be expanded to encompass the whole State rather than just the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The ability to establish sub-groups, such as the Whitsundays sub-group, was also incorporated.

The group received an update from the Whitsundays sub-group, which held its first meeting on 4 March 2020. Members advised that the first meeting was well received and productive.  The group heard updates from researchers on projects being undertaken in the Whitsundays and also provided advice on the priorities for the additional $1 million of funding for shark management for the Whitsundays community recently announced by the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments.

The group supported the advice from the Whitsundays sub-group about additional funding priorities, including for example, expanding the first aid training, trialling real time underwater cameras for water clarity in key snorkelling locations and risk assessments for tour operators.

The group considered priorities for the additional $4 million announced by the Australian Government towards swimmer safety in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The announcement included funding towards:

  • SMART drumline trials
  • rebates to councils to install swimmer safety netting
  • piloting drone surveillance
  • swimmer education.

The group suggested that acoustic receivers (standard and real-time) could be deployed in key locations to capitalise on the increased tagging and trials of SMART drumlines. It was suggested real-time receivers could be deployed at sites where this is no lifesaving service or in other key areas where people are swimming or snorkelling.

The group agreed that States and research organisations should work together to ensure acoustically tagged animals can be detected on all real-time receivers Australia-wide.

The group viewed examples of swimming barriers and provided advice on the practical challenges around deploying them in Queensland locations. The group highlighted the importance of considering the potential impacts of various designs on non-target species in Queensland.

Cardno provided a summary of the effectiveness of SCP gear at various locations.  The report will be provided to members following the meeting for their information. The information suggested that there are some locations where drumlines are as effective at catching dangerous sharks with significantly lower bycatch than nets. Based on the information available, the group supported trialling the replacement of some nets with drumlines over winter during the whale migration season this year. Drone trials may be considered at those locations to provide added protection. Catch data will be monitored during the trial with a full analysis post trial.

The group reviewed a range of catch analyses provided by DAF scientists.

  • Identifying environmental drivers of shark movements and how they relate to catch in the Shark Control Program will help to inform management decisions. Previous research by Werry et al 2018 showed significance increase in bull shark catch when cumulative rainfall >100mm occurred in the preceding 7 days, especially near estuaries. Ryan et al 2019 found risk of bites by tiger shark was correlated with increasing rainfall. The DAF analysis found that daily and cumulative rainfall had no influence on white or tiger shark catch, except at Bundaberg where an increase in tiger shark catch with cumulative weekly rainfall was observed.
  • Peak tiger shark catch occurred during autumn and winter in Townsville and Cairns with bull shark catch less seasonal. Gear deployment after historical lay periods (6 week period over summer when gear was removed), only led to an increase in catch at a small number of beaches which was confounded by the underlying seasonal trends.
  • Analysis of species survival showed that scalloped and great hammerheads have the lowest survival rates of any taxa.  Gold Coast nets recorded a higher catch of juveniles of these species. Gear type and service interval have a significant impact on survival of all taxa caught.

The group reviewed criteria for the target species list (outside of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) to ensure the Shark Control Program continues to focus on species that pose the greatest risk to people in Queensland.

The group received an update on the SharkSmart market research into people’s current behaviours while undertaking water-based activities and their attitudes toward sharks. This research is informing the development of a refreshed SharkSmart education campaign. The majority of market research participants agreed they were personally responsible for their safety in the water, however there was a gap in their knowledge of the behaviours they should adopt to be SharkSmart. The education campaign will target audience segments who are most likely to accept personal responsibility and adopt the SharkSmart behaviours. Campaign messages have been designed to target water users based on their geographic area and the type of water-based activities they undertake.

The group commended DAF for the market research and the development of the SharkSmart campaign, acknowledging that the research will enable DAF to measure behaviour change over time.

The group heard from New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries regarding the NSW Shark Management Strategy.  The current strategy is due to finish on 30 June 2020.  Key learnings include investing more into understanding community sentiment and understanding audiences to target messaging. The NSW community had similar values to Qld where a high percentage of people accept personal responsibility for their safety in the water. The NSW education campaign includes a mobile education trailer that can travel to beaches and high profile events for face to face education. Queensland and NSW continue to collaborate on marine animal release training. NSW is continuing to develop and trial algorithms for automated shark detection using drone and camera technology. Reports on previous NSW trials are available online.

The group received an update on other DAF research projects that are proposed or underway. Bait trials are yet to be analysed. Genetic sampling of sharks will commence soon. The latest technology in dolphin dissuasive devices are now being used on all nets and may be trialled on some drumlines to reduce interactions and depredation by dolphins. Circle hook trials will commence soon, aiming to reduce bycatch without reducing target shark catch.

The group discussed how the program and the operation of the group may impact on climate change. The group discussed possible actions such as reducing travel, offsetting travel of members and fuel use of shark control vessels.

The next meeting is planned for August/September 2020.