Sunday 17 November 2019

We need the SMART alternative

The Queensland Government has removed its lethal ‘shark control’ drumlines from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) while installing/relocating dozens of them elsewhere along the coast.
The action came about after the Humane Society International (HSI) successfully challenged the use of lethal drumlines within the Marine Park.
Importantly, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in its ruling on the HSI case did not forbid the use of drumlines in the Maring Park, only their lethal form.
However, the Queensland Government decided to completely remove their more than 160 drumlines (all lethal) from the Marine Park, rather than replacing them with SMART (Shark-Management-Alert-In-Real-Time) drumlines. SMART drumlines still capture sharks using a baited hook, but they also electronically alert authorities so that the captured animal can be relocated rather than left, possibly for many days, until the lines are checked. During this time the captured animal suffers and is likely to die.
Queensland’s method of ‘shark control’ is a numbers game, a process of killing sharks - in nets and on drumlines - to reduce the possibility of encounters with humans. One of the problems with this approach is that as the Queensland human population and tourist visitation increase, and more coastal locations are used for water recreation, authorities are likely to believe that shark numbers have to decrease further to maintain the status quo.
This way of thinking, dating back to the early 1960s, is increasingly being questioned.
During the GBRMP legal process, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that the use of lethal drumlines does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions. Referring to expert advice received, it stated: ‘The scientific evidence before us is overwhelming in this regard. Most compelling is the evidence of Associate Professor McPhee [Sustainable Environments and Planning, Bond University] who gave evidence that he would never recommend a lethal program, and could never imagine advocating for a lethal shark program anywhere. He agreed that it was highly plausible that if the program became non-lethal tomorrow, we would see no discernible change in unprovoked shark bites, in particular fatalities.’
SMART drumlines have already been successfully trialled in other states.
What does all this mean for cetaceans?
In Queensland, drumlines have caused the deaths of numerous dolphins. Other non-target marine creatures fall victim as well, including harmless shark species, loggerhead turtles, green turtles, olive ridley turtles, manta rays and even sea-eagles. A key advantage of SMART drumlines is that the early alert transmission means that they can be released early, giving them a much greater chance of survival.
There are other problems associated with the lethal shark control program as well. Whenever apex predators such as sharks are removed from an ecosystem, or significantly reduced for a sustained period, the food-web is affected to the detriment of the bionetwork and its inhabitants, including cetaceans.
The Queensland Government is committing $1 million annually to investigate alternative ways to minimise shark/human interactions, overseen by a specific Scientific Working Group. 
It is hoped that this willsupport the development and implementation of technologies and practices that will greatly reduce bycatch, and lead to a reassessment of the perceived need to kill sharks.


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