Hundreds killed in nets

A Huge 5.2 metre tiger shark and seven others over four metres long were among 630 sharks trapped in Queensland nets and caught on drum lines last financial year.

The State Government last week released its Shark Safety Program figures in a bid to justify the controversial use of shark nets, which killed a baby whale off the Gold Coast earlier this year, reports The Australian.

Primary Industries Minister Gordon Nuttall said the catch, snared off 87 beaches from Cairns to the Gold Coast, had increased by almost 20 per cent.

“Almost half of those 630 sharks (298) were two metres long or greater,” he said.

“In 2003-04, 521 sharks were caught and 263 of those sharks were two metres long or greater.”

A haul of tiger sharks, all over 4m long, was caught off Harbour Beach at Mackay, Point Lookout near the Gold Coast and off Bundaberg.

The largest shark, 5.2m long, was snared off Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast.

Mr Nuttall said the program was introduced in 1962 following a spate of fatal shark attacks off Queensland beaches.

It had well and truly proven its worth despite a very small number of whales having become entangled in some nets, he said.

“There has not been a fatal shark attack off a Queensland beach protected by this program since its inception 43 years ago,” Mr Nuttall said.

But conservationists branded the shark deaths a “killing program”.

“The potential dangers of sharks … are extremely low compared with drowning, or just travelling to the beach,” Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesman Craig Bohm said.

“It’s a shark killing program.”

Mr Bohm said shark numbers were in decline worldwide and should be given the same protection as whales and dolphins.

The State Government should use “shark spotters” and enclosed swimming areas to keep swimmers safe instead, he said.

Debate over the nets flared in August following the death of a baby humpback whale and string of entanglements off the Gold Coast.

Humane Society International Australia promised to use the death to mount a Federal Court challenge against Queensland’s use of the nets.

Mr Nuttall said there had been 27 humpback whale entanglements and 23 successful releases since 1992.

“The Shark Safety Program methods are currently the world’s best practice and the most ecologically responsible, providing the best swimmer protection for the least incidental by-catch of non-target species,” he said.