Library:Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2022/23 Annual Performance Report (report)

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Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2022/23 Annual Performance Report (report)

The Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2022/23 Annual Performance Report is a document prepared by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in accordance with the Joint Management Agreement (JMA) and the Management Plan for the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program (SMP). The report provides information on the operation, performance, and outcomes of the SMP for the 2022/23 meshing season, which ran from 1 September 2022 to 30 April 2023. The report also reviews the research and monitoring activities conducted as part of the SMP, and identifies any changes to the Management Plan.

The SMP is a public safety measure introduced in 1937 to reduce the risk of shark interactions at the State’s most popular public bathing beaches. Surf Life Saving NSW figures indicate that about 4.3 million people visited those beaches in 2022/23. Under the current program, 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle are netted by seven contractors using specially designed mesh nets. The aim of the SMP is to reduce the threat of shark interactions within the area of the SMP whilst minimising impacts on non-target species. The only fatality at a meshed beach occurred over 60 years ago, but the nets are not a guarantee that shark encounters will not occur at meshed beaches.

The operation and environmental impacts of the SMP were reviewed in 2009, and between 2009/10 and 2016/17 it operated in accordance with JMAs and an associated Management Plan authorised under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act) and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act). A new, single JMA under the FM Act was prepared in 2017 and the 2017/18 meshing season marked the beginning of SMP operations under the 2017 JMA. Some of the key changes to the JMA were refined trigger points and defining ‘target shark’ species as White Shark, Bull Shark, and Tiger Sharks for the purposes of the JMA and Management Plan.

The objectives of the JMA are to: minimise the impact of shark meshing on fish and marine vegetation which are a threatened species, population, or ecological community, and on marine mammals, marine birds and marine reptiles which are protected fauna or a threatened species, population,or ecological community; and ensure that shark meshing does not jeopardise the survival or conservation status of threatened species, populations or ecological communities, or cause species that are not threatened to become threatened.

The JMA and the Management Plan require an Annual Performance Report to be prepared and submitted to the parties to the JMA and relevant Scientific Committees convened under the FM Act and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) by 31 July each year.

SMP Management Plan Performance Assessment

In accordance with the requirements of the JMA and the Management Plan, this Annual Performance Report has been prepared for the Fisheries Scientific Committee (FSC) and the Scientific Committee (SC) to inform their annual review of the performance of all parties to the JMA. The FSC and SC will advise the Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW and the Coordinator-General - Environment, Energy and Science (EES), respectively, of any deficiencies in implementation of the JMA by either party. This report and the advice of the FSC and SC are publicly available.

The Management Plan sets out the controls on the activity by specifying the operational parameters of the program including contract management, restrictions on waters, timing, gear and methods, and environmental protection provisions.

  • Nets and equipment were inspected prior to the commencement of the season to ensure all contractors were complying with current contract conditions.
  • All other aspects of the program related to contract management, restrictions on waters, timing, gear and methods, and environment protection provisions remained in line with the contract as per previous years.
  • The 51 nets are now distributed across seven meshing regions instead of six, with net numbers and geographic size of regions more even, where possible.
  • All contractor vessels are required to be equipped with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) whilst undertaking meshing activities. The AIS units are a contractual requirement under the SMP, and live monitoring of vessels is conducted by the DPI Shark Program staff.
  • All vessels are required to carry at least two spare nets before going to sea.
  • Contractors are required to own and have inspected a minimum number of nets, depending on the number of nets in their respective region.
  • Auditing processes are conducted regularly through cross referencing of vessel movement data, contractor catch reports, observer reports, and compliance reports.

The SMP nets are also subject to numerous factors outside the control of the Management Plan such as weather conditions, whale strikes and human interference. The following damaged, vandalised, or lost nets were reported during the 2022/23 season.

There were five reports of nets being damaged during the 2022/23 season:

  • 25 September 2022, Fisheries Officers reported that the head rope of the shark net at Wanda beach had been cut. The Sydney South contractor inspected and replaced the net the following day and confirmed the damage. The damage is suspected to have been caused by a boat propeller.
  • 18 October 2022, Sydney North contractor reported a large 3 x4 m hole in the Bilgola net. Mesh appeared to be torn so suspected to be from a large animal. All ropes and mesh recovered.
  • 10 March 2023, Sydney South contractor reported that the head rope of the North Cronulla net had been broken, suspected boat strike.
  • 26 April 2023, Sydney South contractor confirmed net damage to the Wanda net after SLS NSW cut the net to free an entangled turtle on the 25 April 2023.
  • 1 May 2023, Sydney North contractor reported that the Newport Beach net had a hole in it approx. 2m x 2m in size. Suspected interaction with a large animal.

There was one report of vandalism during the 2022/23 season:

  • 12 September 2022, Sydney North contractor reported that the end marker float of the net at Bilgola beach had been cut off. Net was hauled and replaced.

The extreme and adverse weather conditions throughout the 2022/23 season meant that on several occasions many of the contractors removed one or more of their nets from the water to reduce the chances of losing nets. Only one net was reported lost during the meshing season. The Illawarra contractor reported that he could not find the net at Coledale and believed the net was caught on reef and submerged due to the sea conditions. The net was found and retrieved in full on 24 January 2023.

See also

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