Footage from shark drones operating at Ballina, Lennox Head, Evans Head, Redhead and Kiama.
Footage from shark drones operating at Ballina, Lennox Head, Evans Head, Redhead and Kiama. Contributed

Minister argues 'jobs and growth' at risk from shark attacks

FEARS of a hit to Australia's reputation as an international tourist destination were highlighted by the NSW Government in its bid to roll out shark nets on the North Coast.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair last year warned in a letter to Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg that "jobs and growth" were at risk from "the spate of shark attacks was "likely to have flow on impacts to the regional and national economy, including jobs and growth".

Mr Blair was seeking an urgent exemption from the Commonwealth Enviroment Protection and Biodiversity Act, which enforces a national moratorium on shark netting.

In the letter to Mr Frydenberg, he argued the threat of shark interactions was of "national interest" because of the North Coast's status as a major tourist destination.

He said the North Coast drew 11 million visitors a year and the vast majority were holiday makers.

"International and domestic visitors to the North Coast spend $3.7 billion in the year ending June 2016," he wrote.

"The local tourism industry is also important to the local communities as it supports approximately one in three jobs in the region."

Mr Blair said the NSW Government had already received reports of economic impacts of unprovoked shark attacks, including a "seven to 50%" reduction in sales at local surf outlets, and a 12% reduction in wages.

Local lifesaving clubs, particularly Ballina and Lennox, were also suffering.

There was also a 20% drop in nipper registrations to the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club, a 40% drop in cadet registrations, and a 25% fall in patrolling member renewals, "with flow on impacts to the viability of the club".

There was also cancellations of planned on-water events such as the annual Lennox Longboard Classic, cancelled in 2015, and similar local tourism drawcards such as the Evans Head ocean swim.

Mr Blair said the shark net trial was particularly urgent because the major holiday season was fast approaching. The letter was written on November 10 last year.

It was released under a Freedom of Information request by The Northern Star to Mr Frydenberg's office.

Alongside the economic impacts, Mr Blair said there was strong community support for the shark net trial, with 45% of people in an online survey feeling the trial would be positive, versus 26% seeing it as a negative.

Alongside that, there was the unprecedental level of unprovoked shark attacks - 13 on the North Coast since January 1 2015, plus a fatal attack the year prior.

A second letter obtained under FOI from the Director-General of the Department of Primary Industries, Scott Hansen, to the Commonwealth Environmental Standards Division, repeated similar arguments.

Mr Hansen also added that the NSW Goverment recognised the proposed meshing trial would have impact on "some matters of environmental significance, namely threatened and protected species and migratory species".

From the three months from December 8 to the last report on March 8, the nets have caught five target species: two white sharks, two tiger sharks, and a bull shark.

They have caught 149 non-target species, mainly rays, 60 of which have died.

At the conclusion of the six month trial the NSW Government will consider review the catch statistics, local community feedback in whether to pursue permanent netting on the North Coast via the Federal Environment Minister.

A spokeswoman from Niall Blair's office said a stakeholder meeting held two weeks ago in Ballina was very positive.