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Western Australian shark cull policy dumped: experts react

The shark cull that ran for three months off Perth and the Southwest now looks certain to be ended. AAP Image/Sea Shepherd

Western Australia’s controversial shark drum line policy will come to an end, after the state’s Environmental Protection Agency recommended that it not be continued this summer.

WA EPA chairman Paul Vogel said there was too much uncertainty about how the policy, which involves killing sharks longer than 3 m, would affect the great white shark population.

Premier Colin Barnett said the government is unlikely to appeal the EPA’s decision, meaning that it will now abandon its plan to deploy baited drum lines off Perth and the state’s southwest tip for three summers beginning in November.

The decision follows an acrimonious debate over last summer’s cull, which ran from January to April and caught 172 sharks, 68 of which were shot. The policy was developed in reaction to a spate of seven shark-related deaths over the past four years.

Below, experts react to the news.

Jessica Meeuwig, Director, UWA Centre for Marine Futures

“The WA EPA and the WA government are to be congratulated for looking at the evidence behind shark culls and recognising that drum lines don’t save lives and that there are much better ways to increase ocean safety than destroying animals that are essential to ocean health and threatened globally.

Technology and our understanding of sharks have progressed significantly since lethal shark control programs were first introduced in the 1930s (New South Wales) and 1960s (Queensland). We now have the tools to improve ocean safety outcomes without killing threatened species.

Christopher Neff, public policy lecturer, University of Sydney

There are several takeaways from the WA EPA’s decision. First, pulling the array of drum lines out WA is historic. The removal of shark culling gear almost never happens and this is remarkable.

Second, Premier Barnett has signalled that he will continue the "catch and kill” policy for individual sharks. So it is important to note that he is interested in dropping drum lines back in the water to go after sharks for swimming near beaches.

Third, this ruling is a victory for science in policymaking and common sense beach safety. A new debate can now begin about public education and beach safety in WA, and I would extend my hand to the government to work with us on a range of shark bite prevention education efforts.

Ryan Kempster, shark biologist, University of Western Australia

This is a very welcome decision from the EPA and if supported by the state and federal government it will finally allow for an open discussion in WA about beach safety without the distraction of drum lines.

Drum lines and shark nets are outdated programs with no scientific support. It is time to look to the future and invest in programs and research initiatives that will not only protect ocean users, but also improve our knowledge and understanding of sharks. Shark control does not have to be lethal to be effective, and it is time for us to think seriously about alternative non-lethal solutions.

Leah Gibbs, lecturer in geography, University of Wollongong

The EPA’s recommendation is welcome news. The next step will be to take the lessons from this review to the east coast, where drum lines and shark meshing are still used. We need to reassess how we can provide greater safety to ocean users, through methods that don’t involve killing marine animals.

Our research shows that ocean users are strongly opposed to shark hazard mitigation strategies that involve killing sharks.

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