Fisheries Queensland supports research into Shark Control Program (SCP) operations. A number of ongoing projects are examining the effectiveness of the program, investigating ways of reducing the accidental capture of other marine animals (non-target species), as well as creating a greater understanding of sharks that inhabit the inshore areas of Queensland.
Electromagnetic shark barriers
Electromagnetic shark barriers have been widely discussed and researched since the technology was first developed in South Africa in the 1980s. This technology is the basis of commercially available personal devices that are used, predominantly by recreational and commercial divers in high-risk areas, to reduce the risk of shark attack. The use of the technology on a broader scale to protect larger areas is still considered to be in the very early experimental stage. The technology currently has a range of engineering and logistical issues that need to be addressed before it can be used for anything other than personal protection. If these issues can be overcome and the technology eventually proven to be effective on a large scale then it may have application in some sheltered bays in Queensland. However, at this time this technology is unlikely to have any application in open ocean surf conditions in its present form.
During the last five years research into shark catching technologies has concentrated mainly on reducing non-target catch while maintaining the shark deterrent nature of the current mixed fishing strategy of using nets and baited drumlines. Specific research initiatives and their results have included:
- Advances in acoustic alarm/pinger technology for reducing entanglement of marine mammals. Currently the program is trialling two different types of Fumunda pingers on nets in southern Queensland. Monitoring of acoustic alarm/pinger technology will continue in an attempt to find effective methods to reduce marine mammal entanglements.
- Plastic 'hook guards' were trialled to reduce turtle interactions with drumlines in southern Queensland. While they were effective at reducing incidental turtle capture, they reduced the catch of tiger sharks and were discontinued in 2009.
- A trial was conducted to compare two hook drumline rigs and single hook rigs. It indicated no difference in the shark catching ability of either rig, although the single hook rig resulted in reduced turtle interactions. As a result, single rigs replaced double rigs in Townsville. (Single rigs were already used in most other SCP areas in Queensland).
- Alternative baits, drumline rigs and net modifications continue to be assessed.
The March 2006 review of the SCP recommended that future research focus on improving shark gear effectiveness and reducing non-target take. Subsequent to that review, the following three programs that aim to improve the existing deterrent/catching technologies were implemented:
- Analysis of the catches from a surface-set and a bottom-set shark net at Mackay showed that a net set on the surface was equally efficient as a bottom set net in terms of shark capture, but the surface-set net caught less non-target species. As a result, the bottom set net was replaced with a surface set net.
- A large statistical comparison of bait type and drumline configuration was implemented subsequent to the 2006 review of the program. This involved changing some fishing gear on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Rainbow Beach. Results showed that the current gear configuration and baits were logistically the most efficient.
- Scavenging of drumline baits by marine animals reduces the effectiveness of baited drumlines. Mesh bait guards and other deterrents were trialled at three SCP areas in Queensland and all deterrents had a short-term benefit in reducing scavenging, but dolphins were able to learn behaviours to circumvent these measures.
The department is also in regular contact with the Natal Sharks Board in South Africa and New South Wales Fisheries, which also have active shark control measures in place. In addition, officers of the department regularly meet with members of the public, scientists and inventors to discuss ideas for minimising shark attack on Queensland beaches and reducing the non-target capture of marine life. Despite all these collaborations and discussions, there has not been any significant development in new shark-proofing technologies, and traditional capture methods using nets and drumlines remain the most effective measures to reduce the risk of shark attack. Fisheries Queensland's ongoing commitment to collaborative research programs with academic institutions includes investigations into bull whaler movements in canals and feeding strategies of bull whalers. Current programs include:
- Queensland Large Shark Tagging Program by Dr Jonathan Werry that monitors movements of Queensland's most dangerous shark species using satellite and acoustic tags. This program began in 2009 and will run for five years.
- Tiger Shark Program by Fisheries Queensland officer and PhD student Bonnie Holmes that collects biological information on tiger sharks in Queensland waters and monitors their movements using satellite tags.
In addition, Fisheries Queensland conducts ongoing assessment of the SCP's performance to ensure it is meeting its aims.
- Sumpton, W.D., Lane, B and Ham, T. (2010) Characteristics of the biology and distribution of the spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna) in Queensland, Australia based on data collected from the Shark Control Program. Asian Fisheries Science 23, 340-354.
- Sumpton, W.D., Lane, B and Ham, T. (2010) Gear modifications and alternative baits that reduce bait scavenging and minimize by-catch on baited drum-lines used in the Queensland Shark Control Program. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 116, 23-35.
- Sumpton, W.D., Taylor, S.M., Gribble, N.A., McPherson, G. and T. Ham (2011) Gear Selectivity of large mesh nets and drumlines used to catch sharks in the Queensland Shark Control Program. African Journal of Marine Science 33, 37-43.
- Taylor, S., Sumpton, W.D. and Ham, T. (2011) Fine-scale spatial and seasonal partitioning among large sharks and other elasmobranchs in southeastern Queensland, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research, 62, 638-647
- Noriega, R., Werry, J.M., Sumpton, W.D., Mayer, D. Lee, Shing Yip (2011) Trends in annual CPUE and evidence of size and sex segregation of Sphyrna lewini: Management implications in coastal waters of northeastern Australia. Fisheries Research, 110, 472-477.
- J. M. Werry, S. Y. Lee, N. M. Otway, Y. Hu and W. Sumpton (2011) A multi-faceted approach for quantifying the estuarine]nearshore transition in the life cycle of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas. Marine and Freshwater Research, 62, 1-11.
- Werry, J.M, Bruce, B., Sumpton, W., Reid, D., Mayer, D.(2011) Beach areas used by juvenile white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, in eastern Australia. In Global Perspectives on the Biology and Life History of the Great White Shark, ed. Michael L. Domeier, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
- Holmes, B.J., Sumpton, W.D., Mayer, D.G., Tibbetts, I.R., Neil, D.T. and Bennett, M.B. (in Press). Declining trends in the annual catch rate of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in Queensland Australia. Fisheries Research.