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Estimates: Questions on shark nets in Qld

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Wednesday 28 July 2021, I asked about the Government's shark controls program and whether their shark nets and drum lines are actually preventing shark bites or not. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard)

Mr BERKMAN: As the minister identified when we bumped into each other at the by-election on the weekend, I have a question about shark control. Following the 2019 AAT orders requiring nonlethal shark control in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I understand the federal government provided the Queensland government with $5 million for SMART drum lines to assist with compliance. My question to the director-general is: has any of that money been spent and will it all be allocated towards new SMART drum lines?

Mr Gee: I thank the member for the question and refer it to the deputy, if that is okay.

Mr Bolton: I thank the member for the question. In terms of the money that has been provided by the Commonwealth, that will be used for a number of projects—not just the catch alert or SMART drum line trial, but that is certainly part of it. The other part is we are also looking at shark barrier trials, so we are currently in partnership with the federal government for that and we are scoping works for a barrier trial in North Queensland and will be looking to partner up with a local government for that and have allocated an additional value of about $550,000 for a medium sized barrier, including installation. In terms of the SMART drum line or catch alert drum line, which is probably a more accurate description, the planning is well advanced on that. We received the final approval from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on 21 June and we are now in the final phases of doing contract variations. That trial will commence in August, being next month.

Mr BERKMAN: Director-General, can you advise how many non-fatal shark bites have occurred at Queensland beaches that have drum lines or shark nets in place each year since they were implemented?

Mr Gee: I will ask the deputy to answer that.

CHAIR: We can place that on notice if need be. If we have the answer now, that would be great. It is a fairly specific request.

Mr Bolton: I will ask the minister if we can take that on notice.

CHAIR: Can we clarify what the question was? Non-fatal shark bites?

Mr BERKMAN: I can repeat it if you are interested. How many non-fatal shark bites have occurred at Queensland beaches where drum lines or shark nets have been in place since their installation?

Mr Bolton: To the best of my knowledge there have been no non-fatal shark incidents at beaches with Shark Control Program equipment. Since its installation in 1962 there have been two fatalities, but I am not aware of any non-fatal incidents at a beach that has the Shark Control Program.

Mr BERKMAN: Is the suggestion, then, that every instance of a shark bite at a beach that has drum lines or shark nets has resulted in a fatality?

Mr Bolton: We will take it on notice, thank you.

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you.

CHAIR: It is going to be a difficult one.

Mr BERKMAN: If it has been taken on notice, surely that is sufficient for our purposes.

CHAIR: We do not know how many shark bites happen in Queensland.

Mr FURNER: Chair, I think your point is relevant because there are attacks by sharks that are not necessarily reported. That may be a difficult question to respond to, but we will see what we can do in regard to the question the member has raised.

CHAIR: My old man got a nip on the heel once at Sarina.

Mr BERKMAN: The question really is going to how many reported non-fatal shark bites have occurred. Obviously if it has not been reported the department cannot be expected to have any information about it. If that could be the question that is taken on notice, I would very much appreciate it.

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, I think the minister, with the help of the department, will attempt to answer that as best he can. I am just forewarning you that is going to be a difficult one.

Mr FURNER: I do have some figures in front of me, and I hope this is relevant to the question. Since 1 July 2020 there have been 28 unprovoked shark bites across Australia resulting in 17 injuries and six deaths. The remaining five people were uninjured. During 2021 there have been no unprovoked shark bites resulting in injury or death in Queensland, but during 2021 there have been 13 unprovoked shark bites across Australia resulting in 10 injuries and one death and the remaining two people were uninjured.

Mr BERKMAN: I appreciate the response. The question is specifically about those non-fatal attacks that have occurred on beaches that are fitted with drum lines or shark nets. I am absolutely content for it to be taken on notice if that is possible. I accept the limitations of any answer in terms of what is being reported rather than unreported incidents, but is the minister willing to take that on notice?

Mr FURNER: We will take that on notice, Chair.

After the session, I received the following response to the question they finally took on notice:

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries does not specifically collect data on shark bites.

However, a recent internal report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 

included analysis of data from the Global Shark Attack File for unprovoked shark bites in Queensland.

The report found that there are 190 records in the Global Shark Attack File of unprovoked shark bites on the Queensland East Coast between 1847 and 2019, of which 48 (25%) were fatal.

The report also found that for the period from 1962 (the commencement of the Shark Control 

Program) to 2019:

  • 21 non-fatal unprovoked shark bites occurred at Queensland beaches with Shark Control Program nets and drumlines; and
  • 54 non-fatal unprovoked shark bites occurred at Queensland beaches without Shark Control Program nets and drumlines.
  • 1 fatal unprovoked shark bite occurred at a Queensland beach with Shark Control Program nets and drumlines; and
  • 8 fatal unprovoked shark bites occurred at Queensland beaches without Shark Control Program nets and drumlines.

It is noted that the report did not examine incidents of provoked shark bites (for example, bites that occurred while fishing or spearfishing, etc)

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