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5.1 Identification and evaluation of policies

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) Fisheries Group, consists of a policy unit, research unit, and an enforcement unit; the latter being the Queensland Boating & Fishing Patrol (QB&FP) which administers the QSCP. The QSCP directly contributes to the overall QDPI policy of “community and client service”, and to the policy of “industry development” as it enhances the economic viability of the coastal tourist industry of Queensland. QDPI's policy document “Priorities Towards 2000” specifically states that part of the role of the QB&FP (through the QSCP) is to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the shark control programme on bathing beaches in Queensland. This has been a consistent state government policy through a number of changes of government.

To attain its objectives the QSCP has developed a number of operational policies and policy options:

  1. A policy of mixed gear, drumlines plus nets, for the local reduction of large dangerous sharks at bathing beaches.

  2. A policy of minimising bycatch and of maximising the survival of incidental captures that are released, particularly vulnerable and endangered species caught.

  3. A policy of not selling shark products that result from the programme.

  4. A policy of reducing, or changing, the type of shark control gear at any beach, based on scientific advice as to the potential risk to swimmers. The approach is not inflexible but human safety is the highest priority.

  5. A policy of local shark contractors rather than full-time staff. This has proven to be costeffective and puts resources back into the local communities.

  6. A policy of open consultation with local communities through local focus groups and with concerned organisations through an annual contractors conference.

5.2 Policies adopted

Since its inception the QSCP has pioneered the combined use of nets and drumlines for shark control. The use of the mixed gear results in a marked reduction in the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, dugong and sea turtles. The QSCP has a firm policy of reducing both initial capture and subsequent mortality of non-target species in shark control gear. This policy is delivered through contract provisions requiring constant checking of nets and drumlines, training of contractors and QSCP personnel in methods of live release of large marine animals and the formation of rapid response marine mammal rescue teams. Further, the QSCP pioneered the use of sonic “whale alarms” on shark control nets to reduce the accidental entanglement of migrating humpback whales. The QSCP is currently evaluating the use of “dolphin alarms” for a similar purpose. Both devices work by alerting cetaceans to the presence of possible obstructions. There is also currently research into more turtle-friendly hooks for the drumlines. These innovations allow the QSCP to maintain its beach safety standards while reducing its environmental impact, and consequently to enhance Queensland's reputation as an eco-tourist destination.

In 1996 the policy concerning the reduction or changing of the type of shark control gear was examined by a ministerial Committee of Enquiry. Their major recommendation based on the historic comparison of nets with drumlines was to extend the policy of replacing nets with drumlines in sensitive areas. Removal of nets over the summer months (jelly-fish “stinger” season) was put to the community focus groups for approval. The committee agreed with the basic policy of human safety being the highest priority.

The policy of open consultation is supported by the provision of summary shark catch data to the respective focus groups as a normal part of the service delivery. Both the local focus group meetings and the annual contractor conferences provide venues for a full disclosure of the shark catch and bycatch, broken down by area and species. Specialised analysis of these catch data can, and has, been requested at these forums and results are then reported back at subsequent meetings. The feedback from this consultation process allows the QSCP an independent check on its operation and enables it to include client needs in ongoing and future planning.

5.3 Resource access

The QSCP uses competitive public tendering of private-sector shark contractors. The contractor supplies his own boat and pays his own operating expenses (including insurance) but the nets and drumlines are bulk ordered and supplied by the programme. This ensures that the QSCP remains a lean, efficient cost-effective programme yet maintains a consistently high standard of beach safety.

There are stringent quality requirements written into all QSCP contracts. The contractor must meet certain minimum standards in the number of checks per week of the shark control gear, the maintenance of nets and drumlines, procedures for release of bycatch species and accurate catch/effort data collection. The quality control provisions of each contract also call for at least two random inspections per month by officers of the QB&FP. Furthermore, all elements of the purchasing and management of the programme are covered by the QDPI's quality assurance requirements. Again, the quality of client service provided by QSCP contracts is ultimately measured by the safety of swimmers within the contract area.

5.4 Gear types

Shark nets - arrangement and operation: The nets are set adjacent to beaches according to prevailing tides and currents. The distance the nets are placed offshore is assessed individually and is governed by the topographical features of the area. Nets are 186m in length, have three sections and a mesh size of 50cm. They are marked by pink A3 Polyform floats and are anchored to the sea bed using Danforth or CQR anchors.

Drumlines - arrangement and operation: This fishing method uses bait to attract a shark and hence, although unmanned, constitutes an active fishing operation. The efficiency of the gear depends on the ability to attract and embed a hook into the shark. The drumline float provides high impact resistance to “shock” the hook into the animal if the bait is taken (a “strike”). A 14/0 shark hook is suspended from a pink A3 polyform buoy using a two metre length of five millimetre galvanised chain trace. The depth at which the hook is suspended (or “set”) is adjusted to suit local conditions and is baited with fresh sea mullet which is a naturally occurring food source for sharks. The hook, trace and float are anchored to the seabed using either a Danforth or CQR anchor and 12mm polypropylene rope three to four times the depth of the water.

5.5 Biological regulations

QSCP management plans since 1992 include the reduction of incidental capture of endangered species (and their live release if taken accidentally) as a priority, and a Code of Practice with regard to capture and release of such species has been incorporated into QSCP contracts. Procedures for the safe release of large marine animals from QSCP nets and drumlines have been documented and distributed to officers in all QSCP areas.

Large sharks are not released alive but are discarded at least six miles to sea. No product may be sold from the sharks taken by the programme, hence the QSCP does not come under the CITES convention. Currently the QSCP co-operates with a number of external research projects, principally looking into the movement and feeding patterns of loggerhead turtles. Contractors now tag and release turtles caught in QSCP gear. Dolphin carasses from the southern region are made available to the University of Queensland and from the northern region they are shipped to researchers at James Cook University, Townsville. Dugong carcasses are to be turned over to the indigenous community in Cairns on a trial basis.

5.6 Expansion/reduction of the programme

Future expansion of the programme is to be on a user-pays basis. Local councils currently make a financial contribution to any extension of the service to protect developing tourist beaches. This procedure will be applied to any future expansion of existing areas or to new areas where the local community requests the introduction of shark control. There is also the possibility of a reduction in the programme if there is a change of federal government policy banning the taking of protected species for any purpose within the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area.

5.7 Discussion

The challenge in involving community focus groups in advising on management policy is first in the process of initially nominating appropriate groups or candidates to represent the community, and second in ensuring that these representatives attend the majority of meetings. Less populated QSCP districts have had both these problems. In highly populated districts, the reverse situation may occur. Any advisory committee with a reasonably high public profile can be seen as a potential political platform by narrow interest or single issue groups. Thus media exposure may become more important than providing relevant advice to the QSCP. Attempts have been made to hijack the agenda of some focus groups and unduly influence QSCP policy. The strength of the process is that others in the community can have their say, both on the local focus group and as a consensus of all the focus groups state-wide.


6.1 Planning

A management planning and review process for the QSCP occurs annually and is usually finalised after the annual contractors conference which deals with projected budgets, equipment purchases and changes to operating procedures. A second tier review process occurs when individual contracts come up for renewal. Changes in contractual requirements, such as the type of gear to be serviced (added drumlines or reduced number of nets) are negotiated at this time. Contracts are usually for six years and are let by competitive tender. A third tier of review has been through a ministerial Committee of Enquiry which has subjected the programme to a detailed critical examination at irregular intervals.

The ongoing management of the QSCP must consider two ethical issues:

  1. any changes in the number or placement of shark nets and/or drumlines must be made against a background of the potential risk of such actions to human life, and,

  2. while maintaining acceptable levels of swimmer safety, there is an ethical need to reduce unnecessary capture of non-target species.

The consistently high swimmer safety record maintained by the QSCP at controlled beaches speaks for itself, as does the ongoing reduction in the mortality of bycatch species.

6.2 Provision of resource management advice

Although provision of resource management advice is not the primary role of the QSCP, regular summaries of shark catch data for each “controlled” district are provided to the respective community focus group as a normal part of the service delivery to the client groups. Both the local focus group meetings and the annual contractor workshops provide venues for a full disclosure of the shark catch and bycatch of the QSCP, broken down by area and species. Specialised analysis of these catch data can be, and has been, requested at these forums, the results of which are reported back at subsequent meetings.

A number of scientific articles, based on the QSCP database, have been published and papers delivered at both national and international conferences. Because of the politically sensitive nature of shark control, QSCP has always had a policy of an open and accountable delivery of service. The best example of this policy is that the three major scientific articles summarising the catch of the QSCP were written by a totally independent conservationist (Dr R. Paterson) who was given free access to the QSCP data over a period of 20 years.

6.3 Fishery statistics

6.3.1 Methods used for collection of catch and effort data

Consistent inspection procedures provide the key to accurate data collection. All contractors are subject to two random checks per month by officers of the QB&FP Fishing Patrol. Contractors are also obliged to complete daily log sheets which contain the following information:

  1. species identification
  2. size/sex (and number of pups if female)
  3. stomach contents
  4. prevailing weather and sea conditions at time of capture
  5. photographic records of unusual species, and
  6. samples taken from unusual species (to be used in identification and for stock definition).

Since 1992 all contractors have been issued with copies of the most recent taxonomic publication dealing with the elasmobranchs of Australia. The standard reference book is Sharks and Rays of Australia by Peter Last and John Stevens (1994) and represents a summary of the collections of CSIRO, state fisheries organisations and museums from Australian Fishing Zone waters. Prior to 1992 the main reference text used was Grant's Guide to Fishes (Grant 1965). Mr E. Grant set up the QSCP in 1962.

The contractor's daily record logbook has been substantially unchanged throughout the 34 year history of the QSCP. Extra information on non-target species has been required since 1992 but the information required on the shark species caught and the abiotic variables measured has remained constant.

6.3.2 Evaluation of the data collection process

Regular reports on the contractor's performance are made by the local liaison officer and an annual training workshop allows for the evaluation of the contractor's ability to identify sharks species and for identifications to be corrected if necessary. Historically the QSCP focused on the taking of large sharks considered dangerous to humans and hence the reporting requirements have concentrated on shark species. The capture of non-shark species has been recorded for the full 34 years of the programme but in less detail. In 1992, following the recommendations of a ministerial Committee of Enquiry review, species identification was expanded and more detail on non-target species captured was included in the catch reports. Therefore prior to 1992 the bycatch data are limited to the general categories of whale, dugong, sea turtle and dolphin. Sea turtles, in particular, began to be reliably separated into species only after Dr Col Limpus (Queensland Department of Environment) addressed the contractors annual meeting in 1992 and distributed identification kits and tagging equipment. In the special case of Point Lookout where the contractor has identified loggerhead turtles as constituting the majority of turtles taken prior to 1992, it is possible to backestimate the catch of this species at this site over a 16 year period.

Within the database there are three categories of gear; net, drum and unknown. Where capture of non-shark species was recorded but not associated with a gear type it was entered as unknown gear. Similarly in the early records the condition of non-shark species was not recorded hence the database contains categories of alive, dead and unknown. QSCP contractors have always had a general policy of releasing bycatch species alive if possible. This policy has been emphasized since 1992.

6.3.3 Data processing and storage and accessibility

The QSCP shark control catch and effort database has gone through a long period of development. The contractors' daily reports form the basis of the database and are retained as hardcopy archives. In the early period of the programme these reports were summarised manually and entered into ledgers. Since 1988 the reports have been entered onto a computer database. Initially this database was resident on a PC but this system was limited and unreliable. A series of technical malfunctions, over-writing of previous data and undetected errors in data entry led the QSCP to upgrade the database and its management to a more professional level.

Negotiations in 1994 were successful in moving the shark control database to the control of the Queensland Fisheries Management Authority “QFISH” logbook database system which is the official state fisheries catch/effort logbook database system. The QSCP is still responsible for data collection and data entry but QFISH guarantee data integrity and safety from power shortages or hardware malfunction. The new format, which was fully compatible with AFMA's national fisheries databases and with the research databases of CSIRO, has been developed under contract. This software has since been optimised by the QFISH programmemers for ease of data entry and production of customised reports.

One goal is that over time all data will be re-entered and verified from the contractors' original daily logs. Data verification ensures that contractors' errors are detected and are referred to the consultant shark biologist for correction. All historic records, back to 1962, have been re-entered from summary records and/or original log sheets. However, some originals were lost or damaged over the intervening years. The process of verification continues.

6.3.4 Technical specifications

The Shark Control Information System (SCIS), is used by the QSCP to store catch and effort information provided by the shark contractors, and to prepare financial reports and calculate payments to the contractors. SCIS is a client/server application with the client (PC) side written with CA-OpenRoadTM and running under Microsoft WindowsTM. The server side is a CA-IngresTM database running on a dual SunTM UNIXTM computer, which is maintained by the QFMA. In 1996 SCIS contained over 61 000 catch records dating from 1962. Contract information is confidential and is stored in secure files with limited access. Contractor catch and effort records are stored in a series of relational tables and are generally accessible with a relatively low-level security. All requests for access to the data are referred to the manager of the QSCP who assigns appropriate security levels.

6.4 Stock assessment

Attempts at stock assessment within the shark control programme have been limited. The current yearly take (since 1992) of all shark species combined is approximately 90 sharks per protected area (Figure 4). It is considered that this rate of removal, spread across 54 species (Tables 3 and 4), would not have a major effect on the stocks. The programme does, however, provide a unique sampling tool, because of its continuity over 34 years in both gear type and location of gear, for assessment of changes through time in stock biomass of selected species of sharks and possibly of bycatch species. As the data are limited mainly to catch and effort information, robust biomassdynamic production modelling has been attempted, combined with simple time-series analysis of catch and CPUE. The primary indicator of stock abundance has been catch per unit effort (CPUE). Trends in CPUE are monitored for the major species, where these species can be identified unambiguously from the logbook data.

Given the very small number of sharks caught by the QSCP relative to the catch of the commercial shark fishery in adjacent waters, it is unrealistic to believe that the programme would be able to manage stocks. At best the QSCP can monitor the stocks exploited by the Queensland East Coast commercial shark fishery, through the programme's small scale but continuous sampling. As noted previously, the power of this sampling is its continuity over 34 years. Trend analysis of the species composition and size of shark species caught at 10 points along 2000km of Queensland coast can provide only an indication of the health of the stocks.

In the special case of vulnerable, or endangered, species, whether sharks or bycatch, the responsibility of the QSCP is to reduce captures to a minimum. The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) are protected or in the process of being given protected species status in Queensland. These species are caught in low numbers and are released alive if possible. The primary function of the QSCP is the protection of human life, and while it removes large dangerous sharks, it does not “target” protected species of shark. As such the programme is within the Australian protected species guidelines.

Figure 4

Total shark catch taken in the Queensland shark control programme

Figure 4

CPUE has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years for all species of shark that can be reliably identified as a single species, including the white shark, and the size of sharks caught has remained reasonably constant too (McPherson et al. 1998). These are less than perfect measures of the sustainability of the stocks but they indicate that the small number of sharks taken locally by the QSCP has little effect on the larger population.

There has been a necessary compromise between programme costs and quality of data collection. The contract system, while cost effective, ensures that the shark contractor will be a good fisherman but not necessarily a good shark taxonomist. Training is provided but the result is a knowledgeable lay person, not a trained scientist, and the quality of the species identification may suffer. Furthermore, contractors are self-employed and not public servants. Therefore any research project requiring extra time or effort has to be factored into the original contract or negotiated as a separate short-term contract. In the tendering process contractors must cost their time and the use of their boat and gear. This can make research projects more expensive (i.e. the true cost is not hidden in programme running costs) and more inflexible if changes to methodology are required.

Given the spread of the programme over 2000km of coast it is financially and logistically impossible to bring every shark caught to a central laboratory. A compromise has been to make specimens available to research organisations on request, with the organisation paying for the transport, photographs, teeth and electrophoretic samples to be collected by the contractor for analysis by the programme's scientific advisers.

6.5 Evaluation of the management process

As part of ongoing management evaluation, daily catch/effort logbooks are filled out by each shark control contractor and this information is used for contract evaluation (compliance) purposes. Regular reports on the contractor's performance are also made by the local liaison officer and the annual training workshop allows for the evaluation of the contractor's ability to identify sharks species. Financial reporting, reconciliation and annual auditing are performed by the QDPI corporate services division to Queensland State Government standards. Currently Queensland has a triple A international credit rating.

Two major evaluation reviews of the programme have been carried out by ministerial Committees of Enquiry - in 1992 and again in 1996. The terms of reference for the first review were to investigate and advise on:

  1. The roles and responsibilities, inter-communication procedures and contract obligations of the various agencies involved in the Shark Meshing Programme including Boating and Fisheries Patrol, Surf Life Saving Association, Lifeguard, Westpac Rescue Helicopter Services, Department of Transport (Harbours Corporation) and Shark Control Contractors.

  2. The present physical condition, usage, current designs, construction and operational methods including recovery procedures of equipment being used including any changes that may be required.

  3. Alternative mechanisms for providing protection for bathers from shark attack.

  4. The current level of supervision and level of compliance of shark control contractors with their contract conditions including order of work.

Twenty recommendations were accepted by the Government and have been implemented. (See Anon (1992) for detail.)

A second ministerial Committee of Enquiry in 1996 investigated and advised on the impact of the QSCP on vulnerable and endangered species. In particular, the committee examined the outcomes of the recommendations and initiatives put forward in 1992 (see following Section “Environmental costs”).

The QSCP sponsored and organised the “SHARKS and MAN: Shark Management and Conservation” workshop, held under the auspices of the 2nd World Fisheries Congress in Brisbane in 1996. This allowed both international peer review of the programme and a “benchmarking” of the QSCP against similar shark control programmes operating in other parts of the world. The rationale was to bring to Queensland all the recognised experts on shark fisheries, control and conservation to discuss the state of shark stocks and the latest innovations and techniques in bather protection. The twin objectives of the shark control component of the workshop were to explore ways to maintain bather safety while reducing capture of endangered species.

6.6 Success of the shark control programme

Shark control in Queensland was initiated in 1962 in response to public pressure over a number of fatalities caused by shark attack at popular swimming beaches. Since 1962 the QSCP has been spectacularly successful in meeting the needs of beach users in Queensland by reducing the number of fatalities due to shark attack at the controlled beaches to zero.

The major environmental concern with the shark control programme has been the incidental capture of non-shark species. The species perceived to be most at risk are humpback whales, dolphins, dugong and sea-turtles. The Australian humpback whale population is increasing at 12% per annum and its inshore seasonal migration route brings whales into inshore areas along south-east Queensland. Therefore there is potential for interaction between whales and QSCP gear, and juvenile whales have been entangled. Similarly, where the ranges of inshore dolphins, dugong and turtle overlap with the QSCP areas, there is potential for incidental capture. The QSCP has a policy of minimising bycatch of these species by the use of baited drumlines in sensitive areas, acoustic warning beacons on nets and, most recently, by the removal of nets over certain periods when incidental capture is likely.

Over the 34 years of its operation the annual mortality of non-shark species caused by the QSCP was; 0.1 humpback whale, 2 “small whales” (species uncertain), 20 dugong, less than 78 turtles (species and number released uncertain) and less than 19 dolphins (species and number released uncertain). Based on available population estimates, the historical impact of the QSCP would have been; negligible on whales, 0.5% per year of the dugong population in the southern GBR from 1963 to 1985, of minor impact on green and loggerhead turtle populations, unknown but probably minor impact on leatherback turtles and unknown on dolphin populations.

Between 1992 and 1995 the yearly average mortality of vulnerable and endangered species caused by the QSCP was; 0 humpback whales, 4 dugong, 3 loggerhead turtles (11 turtles in total, mainly green turtles) and 10 dolphins (species uncertain). Referring to population estimates available in the literature, the impact of these harvest rates was; nil on whales, 0.1% per year of dugong population in the southern GBR, 1.6% of the yearly indigenous harvest of green turtles, and 0.2% per year of the loggerhead turtle population in Queensland. Lack of population estimates and uncertain species identification did not allow calculations of effects on dolphins.

A series of initiatives was begun by the QSCP with regard to capture of non-shark species, in response to recommendations of the first ministerial Committee of Enquiry (Anon 1992). The results of these initiatives included:

  1. Replacement of QSCP shark nets at all Rockhampton beaches and at Horseshoe Bay, Townsville, to reduce capture of non-target species in those areas. This occurred in late 1992 after appropriate consultation with the local user groups (subsequently formalised into focus groups).

  2. QSCP management plans to reduce incidental capture of endangered species (and their live release if taken accidentally) as a priority.

  3. A Code of Practice with regard to capture of non-target species to be incorporated into contracts for QSCP contractors.

  4. Full reporting of non-target species required in the daily logs filled out by contractors. Since 1992 complete details on the capture of non-target species are recorded, previously only the numbers of each species caught were reliably recorded.

  5. Procedures for the safe release of large marine animals from QSCP nets and drumlines documented and distributed to officers in all QSCP areas.

  6. Annual meeting/training workshops for QSCP shark contractors organised with recognised experts on endangered species invited to give presentations to heighten contractors' awareness of these species. Workshops held on procedures for the safe release of large marine animals.

  7. Marine Rescue Squads, involving representatives of QSCP, QB&FP, Queensland Department of Environment (QDoE), Surf Life Saving and SEA WORLD staff, to be set up progressively from 1993 to handle safe release of large marine mammals.

  8. Local Focus Groups set up in 1993 at each of the 10 areas where the QSCP operates gear. These community liaison groups to be informed of the current catch statistics for their area, including capture of non-target species, and are consulted about the future directions of the programme.

  9. A public awareness education programme started in 1993 with the production and distribution of an educational video about shark control, information pamphlets on safe bathing, and five large scale identification posters of the main species of shark that occur in Queensland waters.

  10. A scientific evaluation/comparison of the catch of nets and drumlines (including the capture of non-target species) and presented to the Gold Coast focus group (at their request) and at the 1995 QSCP shark contractors annual meeting/workshop. Representatives of district shark control focus groups were present at the latter meeting.

  11. Research was initiated in 1992 into the feasibility of sonic warning beacons (whale alarms) to be fitted to QSCP nets on the Gold Coast to counter the possibility of accidental entanglement of migrating humpback whales. The testing was successful with no whales entangled in nets with beacons fitted and no significant drop in the shark catch. Beacons are now routinely fitted to nets on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

  12. In 1994 a feasibility study was initiated of sonic warning beacons (harbour porpoise “pingers”) to be fitted to all QSCP nets to reduce the accidental entanglement of dolphins. Testing with commercially available “pingers” (Dukane Corp.) is currently underway at Cairns and on the Gold Coast.

  13. Research initiated in 1992 to redesign QSCP gear to further reduce accidental capture of endangered species by:

    1. changes in hook design to reduce incidental capture of loggerhead turtles and
    2. changes in net design to reduce the incidental capture of all turtles.

  14. Co-operation by the QSCP with a number of external research projects involving endangered species, principally with Dr C. Limpus of the QDoE, looking into the movement and feeding patterns of loggerhead turtles. Contractors now tag and release turtles caught in QSCP gear.

6.7 Management costs

The QSCP budget for 1997 was A$1.46 m with an average contract cost of A$87 000 per district. Nets and drumline equipment were standardised and supplied from central stores, as was the bait, represent the operational costs of the programme. Management planning costs were primarily head office salary(s), support for the district community focus groups, and the cost of the annual contractors conference.

Apart from the regular local focus group meetings and annual workshops, the QSCP provides public safety information to clients in the form of identification posters, information brochures, school colouring booklets, television community service announcements, and an educational video on shark control. This information was produced in-house with the aid of the focus groups and is disseminated primarily through schools in association with the Queensland Surf Lifesaving Association's beach safety awareness programme. To increase the user-friendliness of the information, particularly to school children, the brochure and educational video are currently being updated and a new primary school-focused shark education booklet has been designed. These education aids are part of the “management costs” of the QSCP. They are also distributed by the district QSCP liaison officers visiting local schools and community groups as part of the QB&FP's ongoing public education programme.

Research and stock assessment are carried out through partnerships with QDPI Fisheries and with national and international research institutions. In this way the QSCP has been involved in research, development and pioneering use of a number of innovative shark control related methodologies. The cost of the research has been met by a small amount of seed money from the QSCP, external grants and funding gained from external consultancies.


7.1 Introduction

As noted for the QSCP, the goal of the NSW “public safety” shark control programme is to implement appropriate harvesting strategies to minimise the potential for a shark attack on swimmers at heavily used swimming beaches. Since the beginning of the programme the NSW shark nets have been constructed of 50 to 60cm mesh which means they are most effective for the larger species. The major categories of shark that were caught over the period 1952–1992 were hammerhead sharks (34.2% of the total catch recorded), whaler sharks (23%), tiger shark (3.1%), and the white pointer or great white shark (5%) (Reid and Krogh 1992). Species data are given in Table 7. Because of substantial changes in contracts and reporting requirements, following a review of the programme in 1972, the data are treated as two periods 1950–1972 and 1973–1996. Data collected earlier than 1950 are considered too unreliable for analysis.

Table 7

Shark species identified from the logbook database of the NSW programme
SpeciesCommon nameComment
Carcharhinus spp.Whaler (?)up to ten species
Squatina australisAustralian angel shark 
Sphyrna spp.Hammerhead (?)possibly three species
Carcharodon carchariasWhite or Great white shark(protected in NSW)
Heterodontus spp.Port Jackson shark (?)possibly two species
Galeocerdo cuvierTiger shark 
Notorhynchus cepedianusBroadnose sevengill shark 
Carcharias taurusGrey nurse shark(protected in NSW)
Isurus oxyrinchusShortfin mako shark 
Alopias spp.Thresher sharkpossibly two species
Orectolobus spp.Wobbegong sharkpossibly two species

7.2 Regional distribution of programme

The use of systematic netting of sharks off Sydney's beaches was initially recommended in 1929 (Anon 1935) but was only implemented in September 1937, after which netting spread to the beaches of both Newcastle and Wollongong in December 1949 (Collins 1972), and to the Central Coast beaches in January 1987 (Reid and Krogh 1992). Meshing was interrupted by the Second World War from January 1943 to March 1946 (Collins 1972). In 1996, 49 bathing areas were protected along 200km of coastline from Newcastle to Wollongong.

1 Information verified through D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries.

7.3 Associated species either as bycatch or discards

Recording of bycatch has been inconsistent throughout the period of meshing and figures presented are probably underestimates of total bycatch. These inconsistencies have arisen through non-systematic under-reporting and/or miss-reporting of catch by untrained contractors, although data collected since 1989 are considered to be more accurate than earlier data (Krogh and Reid 1996). The reported bycatch consisted of non-dangerous sharks (angel sharks, Port Jackson sharks, and wobbegongs), rays, dugong, dolphins, turtles and finfish (Table 8). For the period 1950 to 1993 rays were the most commonly recorded bycatch group, averaging 40 per year, while dolphins averaged 2 per year and turtles 1 per year (Krogh and Reid 1996). Dugong were rarely caught.

Table 8

Bycatch recorded from the NSW meshing programme
SpeciesCommon name
Galeorhinus galeusSchool shark
Lamna nasusPorbeagle shark
Prionace glaucaBlue shark (rarely caught inshore)
Dugong dugonDugong
Chelonia mydasGreen turtle
Dermochelys coriaceaLeatherback turtle
Orcinus orcaKiller whale
Various TELEOSTEITuna, jewfish etc.

The ray group consists of skates (species of the family Rajidae), stingrays (Dasyatididae), stingarees (Urolophidae) and various other rays (Mobulidae, Myliobatididae, Rhinobatidae, Rhinopteridae and Rhynchobatidae) (see Table 9). The majority (75%) of the rays recorded were caught in the Newcastle region. Included in the bycatch category are species of shark which were rarely caught or are considered as “harmless” and which were released alive if possible. NSW Fisheries policy is that bycatch species be released alive if possible.

Table 9
Rays recorded from the NSW meshing programme
SpeciesCommon name
Dasyatis kuhliiBlue spotted stingray
Aptychotrema sp.(?)Shovelnose ray (3 species)
Rhinobatus typus(?)"
Rhynchobatus djiddensis(?)"
Trygonorhina sp.Fiddler (banjo) ray
Manta birostris(?)Manta ray
Rhina ancylostomaShark ray
Rhinoptera sp.Cow ray
Myliobatis sp.Eagle ray

7.4 Development and current status of the programme

7.4.1 The harvesting process

Systematic gill netting is the sole method used to reduce local populations of large sharks. The basic strategy is to remove dangerous sharks from the local bathing area to reduce the probability of a swimmer being attacked. Nets are set overnight seven to thirteen times per month at each beach using an intermittent “fish-down” tactic (D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries, pers. comm.). This tactic differs to that of the QSCP and Natal Sharks Board where nets are left in the water on a nearly continuous basis.

7.4.2 Fishing methods

Contractors provide vessels, nets and labour. Current nets have 50–60cm mesh in 150m long panels that are 6m deep. From 1937 until 1946 nets were 305m long (Collins 1972) and then 152m long until 1972. All nets have been bottom set since 1972, but prior to this the setting was not contractually stipulated (Reid and Krogh 1992). In 1983, meshing in the months of June and July was removed from the contracts and in 1989 the months of May and August were also removed (Reid and Krogh 1992). Until 1972, the contract stipulated only the number of overnight “sets” of a 152m net per 4 week period, which varied considerably between areas (Collins 1972). Subsequent to revision of the contracts in 1972–73, effort was standardised for all bathing areas, leading to an increase of some 20% in nominal effort (Reid and Krogh 1992). Each beach must be meshed a minimum of 13 times per month. A net “set” is now specified as one 150m net set overnight for a minimum period of 12 hours on week days. Weekend meshing or “sets” are left in place for a minimum period of 48 hours. A combination of weekday and weekend meshings gives an average 17 net-days per month (D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries, pers. comm.). Four meshings must be conducted over weekends and no more than 70% of the monthly meshings should be completed per half month. The general practice is to set two nets joined together, thereby effectively having two “sets” on one night with the result that nets are in the water for an average of only nine days per bathing area per month. As there are 49 meshed beaches this would be the equivalent of 150m of net set at each beach for an aggregate of 833 net-days (or 441 days in the water if double nets are used) per month from Newcastle to Wollongong.

All carcasses are discarded at sea (Reid and Krogh 1992); live dangerous sharks are usually shot (M. Krogh, Environment Protection Authority, pers. comm.). Catches are recorded but identification tends to be by taxonomic group rather than to species level (Reid and Krogh 1992).

The coastal shark stocks are also exploited by a limited entry commercial shark fishery and by recreational sport fishing.

As with the QSCP, the Protective Beach Meshing Programme is a fully state-subsidised public safety measure. Shark carcasses cannot sold for profit and no contractor can hold a commercial shark fishing license to avoid conflict of interests.

7.4.3 Economics of the programme

NSW and Queensland have extended coastal tourist seasons, due to their benign climate and premier bathing beaches. The tourist industry is a major economic contributor to each state through taxation and multiplier effects. While there is no direct revenue from the NSW shark control programmes, there is the indirect effect of increasing the revenue created by the coastal tourist industry and by marine tourism in general.

7.4.4 The programme's workforce

The organisation and overall management of the NSW meshing programme is based in NSW Fisheries, Sydney. Service delivery is contracted through local operators who are in charge of daily servicing of the programme's shark nets. At present there are 49 beaches meshed and five contractors.


The NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme could be defined as an inshore fishery hence it comes under NSW state jurisdiction. The NSW Fisheries Management Act (1994) and General Regulations (1995) cover shark meshing. The most pertinent Section of the Act is the requirement for ecologically sustainable development of the fishery. This requirement is also reflected in national fisheries policies. The Protective Beach Meshing Programme is covered by special permit issued under the Act, as is the taking of white sharks and grey nurse sharks as these are both protected species in NSW. Negotiations are underway to protect these species nationally.

The objectives of the NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme are similar to those of the QSCP in that the programme should:

  1. minimise the risk of shark attack on humans at popular bathing beaches
  2. minimise the environmental impact of the programme, and
  3. optimise the cost effectiveness of the programme.

An objection to public safety shark control has been that there is a low risk of shark attack in Australia which does not justify the environmental cost of such programmes. One difficulty with this argument is that attack statistics quoted are usually those for the last 30 years i.e. after shark control measures had already been introduced in NSW and Queensland. Ironically, the low risk of shark attack is used both by the managers to measure the success of the various risk reduction programmes and by those who wish to show that they are unnecessary.

Stevens and Last (1994) report that there is a large recreational shark fishery near Sydney and that many of the sharks caught are killed, although tag-and-release is growing in popularity (Pepperell 1992). There is considerable overlap with the NSW beach meshing programme in terms of the species composition of the catch (Stevens 1984) and hence the recreational fishery could be regarded as an additional risk reduction measure, albeit unintentional.


9.1 Identification and evaluation of policies

In New South Wales, fishery resources are generally regarded as common property assets. They belong to all people and are managed by the NSW Fisheries Department who derives its authority from the Fisheries Management Act 1994. The Fisheries Management Act grants powers related to commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture and fish habitat protection. The objectives of the Act are to conserve, develop and share the fishery resources of the State for the benefit of present and future generations.

The aim of the Department is to conserve and manage the use of the State's fisheries resources within a framework of Ecologically Sustainable Development. This is defined as “using, conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased”. To achieve this goal, NSW Fisheries conducts scientific research to understand fish populations and implements appropriate harvesting strategies to control fishing.

The Protective Beach Meshing Programme uses appropriate harvesting strategies to minimise the potential of shark attacks on swimmers. The NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme has a similar policy framework to that of the QSCP. These policies have the following features:

  1. The programme has human safety as its highest priority.

  2. The Department seeks to selectively cull local populations of large, potentially dangerous sharks adjacent to popular swimming beaches, while maintaining their numbers elsewhere.

  3. The Department seeks to minimise the catch of incidental species (including harmless sharks) and to maximise the survival of released species.

  4. Meshing activities are conducted to ensure minimal impact on the marine environment and local contractors are employed to ensure cost efficiency.

  5. NSW Fisheries maintains a catch database to monitor the effect of its management arrangements and the Department welcomes open consultation with other scientists, fishers and local communities regarding the programme.

9.2 Policies adopted

The above policies have been in operation, with minor changes, since 1972, but the overall policy of increasing bather protection by lowering the probability of shark attack has been in operation since 1937. There have been a number of refinements to netting times, locations and strategies to improve the efficiency of meshing operations and reduce bycatch. In recent years, the scientific activities have been improved with more appropriate data management and more accurate analysis and reporting of catch and effort. The use of independent observers aboard meshing vessels to measure catches and identify shark species has greatly improved the monitoring of meshing activities.

Following a review and upgrading of the beach meshing programme in 1972, contracts specified use of nets 150m long by 6m deep with mesh sizes of between 50 and 60cm positioned so that the bottom of the net rested on the seabed. Baited lines (drumlines) were not introduced in case they attracted sharks to beaches (Collins 1972).

In NSW both the white shark and the grey nurse shark are protected species. Deliberate targeting or sale of products from these species is banned and it is policy to release them alive if possible. The NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme is allowed to take these sharks as bycatch under special permit.

There are no current plans for expansion of the Protective Beach Meshing Programme and the minister in charge of NSW Fisheries stated in late 1996 that there would be no reduction of the programme during his term of office (Holt 1998). There is, however, considerable on-going pressure from conservation groups for removal of nets because of the perceived threat posed to protected species.

The positioning of the nets at 49 beaches along a 200km stretch of coast provides an effective gauntlet to sharks moving parallel to the coast. The catch at the northern end of this array of nets, i.e. Newcastle, is higher than at central or southern beaches, as is the CPUE. This would suggest that there is a gradient in coastal shark abundance, or migration, from north to south. An alternative view is that there is a synergistic effect from the linear array of multiple nets such that the central coast in particular receives a higher degree of protection than beaches at either end (Dudley 1997).

The inclusion of independent observers to validate contractors' reports was necessitated because of concerns raised over the operation of some contractors. For example, claims had been made of buoys being laid with only rope between them rather than nets and conversely of nets being left in the water for extended periods without service.


10.1 Provision of resource management advice

A management planning and review process occurs annually, in line with state government auditing requirements, which deals with projected budgets, equipment purchases and changes to operating procedures. A second tier review process occurs when individual contracts come up for renewal. Changes in contractual requirements, such as the number of gear sets, or changes to gear, are negotiated at this time. Contracts are usually for 2 years and are let on a competitive tender basis. There was a major external review of the programme in 1972 and current operational procedures were established in place following the recommendations made by that review.

Providing resource management advice is not the primary role of the NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme though regular summaries of shark catch data for each meshed area are provided to the State government as a normal part of the service delivery. Specialised analysis of these catch data can be, and has been, requested at public forums, the results of which are reported back to the government or at subsequent public meetings.

10.2 Fishery statistics

Monthly statistical returns are provided by each contractor and include; the number and species of shark caught (ditto of bycatch), length of shark, gender, condition (alive or dead) and, if female, the number of pups. NSW Fisheries employs part-time observers to go out with the contractors to verify that contracts are fulfilled and that the catch data reported are accurate. Data are archived as hard-copy records of the contractors' returns and are entered onto a computer database held at NSW Fisheries.

10.3 Stock assessment

Total shark catch is shown in Figure 5. Stock abundance can be followed from trends in CPUE, assuming a direct relationship exists between them. Some catch data, grouped by species or species group, are available for the period prior to 1950 (Coppleson 1950), but Coppleson expressed doubts about their accuracy and both Collins (1972) and Reid and Krogh (1992) choose not to use them. Stevens and Paxton (1992) report that more than 1000 sharks were caught in the first year of meshing, 1937–38, although Coppleson (1950) gives a figure of only 517 sharks which may have been for the second year of meshing. Whitley (1940) indicates that 721 “dangerous sharks” were meshed in the first year of the programme but this did not include all sharks caught.

Figure 5

Total shark catch taken in the NSW protective beach meshing programme (Data supplied by D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries)

Figure 5

By 1950, the annual catch was 354 sharks (Collins 1972), but this 56 had decreased to an annual average of 162 sharks during 1985–1990 (Reid and Krogh 1992). There was no trend in CPUE between 1951 and 1972, but the changes in gear specifications and net deployment in 1972/3 led to an increase from a pre-1972 mean of 44.6 sharks per 1000 sets to 107.4 sharks per 1000 sets in the 1972/3 season (Reid and Krogh 1992). There was a decline in catch during the 1970s but there was no trend through the 1980s (Reid and Krogh 1992).

Given that the annual number of sharks taken by the NSW meshing programme averaged only 167 fish (spread across at least 10 species) for the last 10 years, it is unlikely that the programme on its own is affecting the sustainability of the shark resource in NSW. The major concerns are over the white shark and grey nurse shark where the CPUE has been declining. Both species are now released alive if caught. In the case of the grey nurse the main cause of its decline has been identified as sport spear-fishing in the early 1970s and in the 1980s (Pollard 1998).

The catch of both sharks and bycatch by the NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme is the smallest of the three major shark control programmes (KwaZulu-Natal, NSW and Queensland) and is well below the catch of any viable commercial shark fishery. Historically the CPUE of the NSW meshing programme has declined over the duration of the programme. Initially the drop would have been due to a “fishing down” of local shark populations. Subsequently, the slow decline (except in tiger shark) probably reflects a declining abundance of the general shark populations. The small number caught by the NSW meshing programme is unlikely to be the cause of such declines on its own, but continuous low-level sampling can expose underlying trends in the population dynamics of coastal shark species.

10.4 Evaluation of the management process

The NSW Protective Beach Meshing Programme is ultimately responsible to the state government minister in charge of the fisheries portfolio. Evaluation of the programme's management follows normal NSW State Public Service procedures. Due to the high public profile and interest in shark meshing, both from the view of potential shark attack and the incidental capture of endangered species, there is considerable public scrutiny of the activities of the programme.

At Newcastle's meshed beaches there were 11 attacks (four fatal) between 1918 and 1949 (Collins 1972). Since the initiation of meshing in December 1949 (Collins 1972), there have been only two attacks, both at Merewether Beach. A fatality occured in 1951 and surfer received minor injuries in 1957 (Coppleson and Goadby 1988). At Sydney's meshed beaches 18 attacks (10 fatal) occurred between 1897 and 1936 (Collins 1972) prior to netting. After nets were installed in September 1937 there were two attacks, one at Cronulla in January 1938, in which the fate of the victim is unknown, and the other a non-fatal attack at Bondi in February 1951 (Collins 1972); Reid and Krogh (1992) report no further attacks after 1951. Coppleson (1950) claims that no attacks occurred at meshed beaches from the time nets were installed until 1950, so the Cronulla incident appears doubtful. Despite its large bather population, shark attacks in the Wollongong area have been “almost unknown” both before and since the installation of nets (Coppleson and Goadby 1988). Overall the success of the programme and its management can be measured by the marked reduction in shark attacks on humans at protected bathing beaches and the elimination of shark fatalities at these beaches since 1951.

The major environmental concern with the Protective Beach Meshing Programme has been the incidental capture of harmless species. The species perceived to be most at risk are protected shark species (great white and grey nurse sharks), “harmless” sharks, dolphins and sea turtles. The catch of this group is relatively small and it is the policy of the programme to release them alive if possible. In some species the percentage of captures released alive is high; for example the angel shark (65%) and Port Jackson shark (95%) (Holt 1998). For other species the catch is extremely low, e.g. dolphins (2/y) and sea turtles (1/y). Ultimately, the problem is one of value judgements. What is the worth of a human life in terms of the incidental mortality of the bycatch species? This decision is a community responsibility but it is the mandate of the meshing programme to reduce the incidental capture to the lowest level possible while maintaining swimmer safety.

10.5 Management costs

The total annual cost of the Protective Beach Meshing Programme was A$600 000 in 1996 (Holt 1998). This included both the cost of the shark meshing contracts (A$400 000) and an estimation of the cost of managing the contracts (D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries, pers. comm.). There was no specific allocation of funds for research, although joint projects have been arranged between the programme and universities. One such project has been genetic identification of shark species using electrophoresis of tissue samples supplied by the meshing contractors (pers. Comm., R.W.K. Chan, University of NSW).


Between 1964 and 1968, there were four shark attacks on surfers, swimmers and divers near Dunedin which is on the east coast of the South Island, three of which were fatal. Great white sharks were probably responsible for all four attacks. In late 1969, two shark nets were laid off St Clair and St Kilda Beaches to protect swimmers and surfers. The number of nets was increased to 16 by 1976 (though not all were used at one time), and the programme was extended to include Brighton Beach. By 1992, the number of nets had dropped to eight, six of which were in use at any one time. The netting programme currently covers St Kilda, St Clair and Brighton Beaches, with two nets set permanently at each beach between December and February. Each net is about 100m long, 5.5m high, and has a mesh size of 30cm. Therefore only larger sharks (and other marine animals) are caught. The nets are inspected three times a week.

For the first decade, no accurate records were kept of the numbers and types of shark caught. However, in a letter to the Otago Daily Times in 1978, the Secretary of the Otago Water Safety Council stated that the numbers caught each summer were: 1971–72: 16; 1972–73: 6; 1973–74: 29; 1974–75: 14; 1975–76: 62 and 1976–77: 18. The sharks were mainly great white, thresher, sevengill and blue sharks. The numbers of great whites caught in each of three seasons were given as: 1973–74: 2; 1974–75: 7; 1975–76: 5. Accurate catch details were first kept in 1986, and between then and 1991, 72 sharks were reported caught. Half were sevengill sharks, 31% were school sharks and 11% were threshers. Mako and blue sharks made up the remaining 8%. No great white sharks were caught. In the 1995–96 season, 29 sharks were caught, including ten sevengill, eight thresher, five blue and four school sharks, along with one rig and one unidentified shark.

Following the deployment of the nets, shark attacks in the region declined rapidly. There was one attack at St Clair Beach in late summer 1971, after netting had finished for the year, and another at Moeraki (in the region, but never netted) in 1973. There have been no attacks since 1973.


In an attempt to allay public fears and to reduce the risk of shark attack, the state government of Hawaii spent over $300 000 on shark control programmes between 1959 and 1976. Six control programmes of various intensity resulted in the killing of 4668 sharks at an average cost of $182 per shark. The programmes furnished information on diet, reproduction, and distribution of sharks in Hawaii, but research efforts of the programmes had several shortcomings. Analysis of the biological data gathered was not directed toward the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier (Peron & Lesueur), which is responsible for most attacks in Hawaii. Reliable estimates of shark populations in Hawaii cannot be made based on catch data from control programmes because of sampling biases. Most of the information gained from the control programmes was not published in review journals and is not readily available to the scientific community. The ability of the control programmes to reduce shark populations and to remove large sharks from coastal waters appears to have been stated with more confidence than is warranted, considering seasonal changes observed in shark abundance and variable fishing effort. Shark control programmes do not appear to have had measurable effects on the rate of shark attacks in Hawaiian waters. Implementation of large-scale control programmes in the future in Hawaii may not be appropriate. Increased understanding of the behavior and biology of target species is necessary for evaluation of the effectiveness of small-scale control efforts, such as selective fishing after an attack. Acoustic telemetry, conventional tagging, and studies on population dynamics concentrating primarily on the tiger shark may be used to obtain data about activity patterns, distribution, and population parameters, providing information useful for reducing the risk of shark attack in Hawaii and elsewhere.

2 Extracted from: Francis, M.P. (submitted) New Zealand shark fisheries: development, size and management. Marine and Freshwater Research.

3 Abstract from: Wetherbee, B.M., C.G. Lowe and G.L. Crow 1994.

Subsequent to this publication, an update was provided by B.M. Wetherbee, University of Hawaii in October 1997. He noted that there were two fatal attacks in 1991–1992 which led to directed shark fishing in areas where there had been an attack or where sharks were sighted. Over the next few years an estimated 100 tiger sharks were killed by state sponsored and private fishing in the waters around Oahu. This small-scale fishing lasted until 1994 or 1995, by which time the number of attacks, and consequently public demand for action, had dwindled. Recent research has shown that tiger sharks move long distances around the Hawaiian Islands (Holland et al. 1997) and hence that localised fishing following an attack is of limited use if the objective is to catch the shark in question. These findings probably contributed to the cessation of shark fishing. The state has heeded a call by fisheries biologists to channel resources into shark research and public education rather than shark control.


The NSW summary was compiled from published articles, conversions with Mr S. Holt and Mr. D.D. Reid, NSW Fisheries (Protective Beach Meshing Programme) and with information kindly provided by Mr D.D. Reid and Dr G. Henry, NSW Fisheries, and Mr M. Krogh, Environment Protection Authority, NSW. The authors wish to acknowledge these contributions and thank the staff of the NSW Fisheries for their co-operation and assistance. Thanks too, are owed to Dr M.P. Francis, NIWA, Wellington, and Mr B.M. Wetherbee, University of Hawaii, for information regarding Dunedin and Hawaii respectively.


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