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Even though shark encounters are rare, here are some common sense tips to help reduce the risk of one happening.
Action Plan06 November 2013
Seven fatal shark attacks in the three years to the end of 2013 in Western Australia cast a long shadow over our world famous beaches and left some of us feeling anxious about venturing into the water.
The State Government listened to these concerns and is taking strong, practical steps to improve shark safety at our beautiful beaches and preserve our love affair with the ocean.
These operational measures work in tandem with ongoing research, monitoring, beach surveillance and the funding of shark deterrent systems to improve our understanding of sharks and keep you safer in the water.
Updates to the Shark Response Strategy
Shark response strategies for the 2014/15 summer included stronger operational responses for when a shark is considered to be posing a serious threat to public safety, extra aerial surveillance, and a boosted shark incident response capacity in the South West.
Immediate action can now be taken by the Western Australian Government to implement the serious threat policy, which allows for capture gear to be set when certain criteria are met and a shark is considered to be posing a serious threat to public safety. The State Government reached an agreement with the Commonwealth Government to ensure that fast action can be taken in the event of a shark posing a serious threat or after an attack.
Guidelines and operational procedures to deal with shark hazards provide a framework for determining a serious threat and whether capture gear should be deployed.
When this is decided, an order may be given to take the shark under the direction of the Director General of the Department of Fisheries. If a shark attack has occurred, an order can also be given for shark capture gear to be set.
For the safety of everyone involved, when shark capture gear is deployed, there is a 100m exclusion zone around drum lines and vessels taking part in State Government of Western Australia shark response activities and operations.
This streamlined approach to serious threat strikes the necessary balance between protecting public safety and protecting our environment.
The Department of Fisheries has also boosted its shark incident response capacity in the South-West with vessels now stationed in Bunbury, Busselton and Margaret River.
Locating boats in these towns means that in the case of a threat on the water, and in particular in the case of a shark being deemed a serious threat, Fisheries officers will be able to respond quickly.
Extra surveillance was in place for 2014/15 with Surf Life Saving WA being provided with additional funding to extend aerial patrols over the South-West to cover school holidays, weekends and public holidays. Additional funding of $655,000 per annum has also been provided to facilitate the extended aerial patrols in the South West for three years to 2018.
The history of our 2013/14 Action Plan
In the interests of public safety, following the seventh fatal shark attack in WA waters in the summer of 2013/14, the deployment and monitoring of a limited number of drum lines off the metropolitan and South West coasts was trialed between January and April 2014.
The program did not continue beyond the completion of the trial.
A review of the 2013-14 drum line trial was undertaken following cessation of the program on 30 April 2014. The review explored the program operations, catch data analysis, consultation undertaken, costs, other shark control programs and addressed criticisms. The review is available for viewing online.
A number of broad recommendations were made from the review which covered not only the drum lining operations but also some other complementary State Government shark hazard mitigation strategies. The primary recommendation, however, was that the program be extended for another three years (15 November and 30 April each year for three years between 2014 and 2017) and then be reviewed again.
A Public Environmental Review (PER) was conducted for this proposal and public submissions were invited as part of the process. Information on the proposal, the likely environmental impacts and a proposed management plan are available to be viewed online.
Following the PER process the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority did not recommend the continuation of the program given a high degree of scientific uncertainty of the impacts on the southwestern white shark population, and the State Government withdrew its application for Commonwealth approval for the program to continue.
What was the Shark Response Strategy in 2013/14?
In January 2014, two Marine Monitored Areas (MMAs) were created to offer additional shark hazard mitigation measures in WA. In the metropolitan region the MMA included the area from Quinns Rock Beach to Warnbro Beach and extended from the beach to 1km offshore. In the South West, the MMA covered Forrest Beach to Prevelly, and also extended 1km offshore.
Within an MMA, drum lines were deployed about 1km off beaches and popular surfing spots.
Beaches within the MMAs were patrolled by vessels commissioned to deploy and bait drum lines, monitor the drum lines daily and remove sharks and other bycatch.
Outside the MMAs all responses to sharks were managed under existing arrangements, including the information being posted on Twitter, and/or beach closures at patrolled beaches. The Department of Fisheries imminent threat policy was also able to be activated when a shark was considered to be a threat to beach goers.
A drum line is a fishing apparatus that consists of a baited hook suspended from buoysand anchored to the ocean floor. Hook size and design for the trial program were chosen to target large sharks and to minimise bycatch.
With assistance from Surf Life Saving WA, drum line locations in the metropolitan area were chosen based on beach popularity, benthic habitat, a history of recorded shark sightings and patrol coverage by paid and volunteer lifesavers.
Within the Metropolitan MMA, baited drum lines were deployed about 1 km offshore at Mullaloo, Trigg, Scarborough, Floreat, City Beach, North Cottesloe, Cottesloe, Leighton and Port Beaches.
Up to 30 drum lines were deployed in the Metropolitan MMA between 31 January and 30 April 2014, and were patrolled between 6am and 6pm daily.
During January and early February 2014, drum lines were deployed in the South West about 1 km offshore at Old Dunsborough, Castle Rock, Meelup and Bunker Bay. These beaches had increased shark hazard mitigation measures until mid-February 2014, after which the equipment was transferred to between Yallingup and Lefthanders, with a greater emphasis on surfing locations. These drum lines remained in place until 30 April 2014.
Up to 30 drum lines were deployed and patrolled at any one time in the South West MMA.
White (Carcharodon carcharias), Bull (Carcharhinus leucas) and Tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) sharks with a total length of 3m or greater, caught in an MMA were humanely dispatched.
All sharks under 3m, and non-target species over 3m, in a healthy condition, were released.
The State Government received relevant exemptions for the trial program to humanely dispatch sharks which met the guidelines. Exemptions included:
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
- Fish Resources Management Act 1994
- Western Australia's Wildlife Conservation Act 1950
Sharks that were destroyed as part of this strategy were tagged with an identifying numbered tag and taken a distance offshore, within State waters. The tags will assist in identifying the carcasses should they wash up on shore.