A shark trapped in fishing nets was released by Kelli Anderson, a keen environmentalist and diver.
A shark trapped in fishing nets was released by Kelli Anderson, a keen environmentalist and diver. Contributed

Shark nets by Christmas? Ballina mayor reveals DPI plan

SMART shark nets by Christmas are on the agenda for northern New South Wales, says Ballina Mayor David Wright.

Smart technology similar to that used in existing NSW drum lines would be incorporated into the nets, he said, in a design to be launched by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

The technology meant dolphins and whales would be deterred from the nets by pingers and a marine wildlife rescue expert would receive an alert every time animals became entangled.

Several stakeholders attended a late-notice meeting today on shark management strategies called by the Director General of the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Cr Wright said.

He said the DPI did not disclose how many nets would be used in the trial and it was up to the community to decide which beaches would have them.

"Lighthouse Beach is 800m long but the nets are only 150m long," he said.

The nets would not stay in the ocean permanently, he said but would be unfurled on days when weather permitted and a boat with a marine wildlife rescue expert was available to respond to alerts.

He said set-up and pack-down of the nets was a "one man job".

Beaches in Sydney with a similar system were often closed two or three days each week after shark sightings, he said and suggested that beaches on the North Coast needed more patrols to increase human safety.

He said any sharks caught in smart nets would continue to be tagged and dragged out to sea as per current practice with smart drum lines and added that the DPI had noted such sharks rarely bothered to make a return visit.

The trial would include improved drone technology, he said and described various models of the Little Ripper drones that have made appearances at Ballina beaches recently as well as an updated Mini Ripper model due for release soon.

Cr Wright laughed off concerns of drones crashing into beach-goers, saying "it's the same as people getting picked on by magpies".

The DPI would pre-program drones, he said, eliminating the need for anyone to steer.

"We need more education on the shark nets," he said.

"I'm still not for nets but now I'm not a hundred per cent sure.

"It doesn't matter what I think; it's up to the community."

Representatives from two north coast surf clubs, Surf Life Saving NSW, the Surf Rider Foundation, Le-Ba Board riders, local chambers of commerce, and Byron and Richmond Valley Councils joined Cr Wright and DPI staff to discuss "a desperate need" for effective shark management in northern NSW.

Cr Wright said business representatives indicated they were "starting to lose bookings for Christmas" thanks to public fear of shark attacks.

"There won't be too many schools coming for excursions before Christmas," he said.

"Risk-assessment is going to prohibit" teachers from allowing students in the water at beaches where sharks were a concern.

"The Director General said there's no one size fits all and I agree," Cr Wright said.

"There's so much technology available, it'll be a combination."

He said the DPI considered Shark Eye technology as "too expensive": $2.5 million per year compared to $1.5 million for shark management strategies used in Sydney.