The Shark Control Program in Queensland, Australia

Helmut Nickel, Shark Year Magazine,
17. February 2014
 

An overview of the Shark Control Program in Queensland with an analysis of the 2013 catch statistics.

The Shark Control Program in the north-eastern Australian state of Queensland is supposed to minimise the threat of shark attack on humans in particular locations. The program was launched in 1962 and it currently relies on over 360 drumlines and 30 nets (see Tab. 3) which offer protection to ca. 80 bathing areas over 320 kilometres of coastline.

In Queensland, the so-called ‘high risk species’ are considered to be the following shark species:

–  Bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas )
– Tiger shark ( Galeocerdo cuvier )
– Great white shark ( Carcharodon carcharias )
– certain species of  ‘whaler sharks’ ( Carcharhinidae Family )
– Hammerhead sharks ( Sphyrna spp. )

According to local authorities ( in a source published in 2006 ), the hammerhead species has been added to this high risk group, not so much for its proven attack history in Queensland waters, but for its local abundance.

Only non-target shark species are generally released alive upon capture. They are considered to be harmless to humans or released for conservation reasons ( e.g. sandtiger sharks ).

But many other shark species are regarded as a potential threat to humans. They are referred to as ‘target shark species’ and usually euthanized if found alive on the mesh nets or drumlines.

Although other sources say that all smaller specimens of the target sharks (measuring under 2 metres long) are released alive if possible.

Another official publication ( released in 2005 ) provides a more detailed list of the target or ‘to be killed’ sharks in the Queensland Shark Control Program. I am not sure if the list is still valid, but according to this source, the target species are as followed :

–  Great white shark ( Carcharodon carcharias )
– Shortfin mako shark ( Isurus oxyrinchus )
– Tiger shark ( Galeocerdo cuvier )
– Bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas )
– Dusky shark ( Carcharhinus obscurus )
– Spinner shark ( Carcharhinus brevipinna )
– Pigeye shark ( Carcharhinus amboinensis )
– Sandbar shark ( Carcharhinus plumbeus )
– Sicklefin lemon shark ( Negaprion acutidens )
– Silky shark ( Carcharhinus falciformis )
– Great hammerhead shark ( Sphyrna mokarran )
– Scalloped hammerhead shark ( Sphyrna lewini )
– Smooth hammerhead shark ( Sphyrna zygaena )
– Winged hammerhead  shark ( Eusphyra blochii )

Some may be surprised to find the protected great white shark in this list, but even a recently published source ( by the Australian Government in 2013 ) confirms that all white sharks captured in the Queensland Shark Control Program are currently euthanized.

This is a significant contrast to the Shark Meshing Program in the neighbouring state of New South Wales, where white sharks have been released alive whenever possible since 1995.

Over the past 13 years, 82 white sharks were captured by the Shark Control nets and drumlines throughout Queensland ( Fig. 5 ). But there were 2.845 tiger sharks and 1.318 bull sharks caught over the same time-period (Fig. 4) .

Queensland Catch Statistics for the 2013 Season

686 shark specimens, consisting of at least 22 species, were caught in the nets and drumlines off Queensland’s coast from 01. January to 31. December 2013 (see Tab. 1 ).

With over 56 percent of all catches, two of the most dangerous shark species are dominantly represented in this catch statistic. Because tiger sharks were the most commonly caught species (with 248 individuals or ca. 36 percent), followed by bull sharks with 137 individuals (ca. 20 percent).

If the above list of target species is still accurate, only about 21,5 percent ( or 147 specimens ) of all the catches had a realistic chance to be released alive because they belong to the group of the non-target species.

Regarding the target species, 539 sharks were captured of which ca. 55 percent (=294 individuals) measured over 2 metres in length and were most likely killed (see Fig. 2 ).

In the Australian fishing zone, five shark species are currently protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Three of these species can be found in last year’s catch statistic: It’s the great white, sandtiger and speartooth shark. But their numbers remained extremly low with an overall of only 11 specimens ( including 6 white sharks ) or ca. 1.6 percent of the 686 reported catches in 2013.

Tables

tab1_qld scpfig2_target 2mtab3 qld scptiger bull fig4gw_fig5

References:

– Australian Government/Department of Environment, March 2005 :
Death or injury to marine species following capture in beach meshing (nets) and drum lines used in Shark Control Programs.
(Advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC)
on Amendments to the List of Key Threatening Processes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)

– The State of Queensland, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, March 2006 :
A Report on the Queensland Shark Safety Program.

– Commonwealth of Australia 2013 :
Issues Paper for the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) 2013.

– Queensland, DPI:
Qld. Shark Catch Statistics 2001 to Dec 2013

– Australian Fisheries Management Authority:
Threatened, Endangered, and Protected (TEP) Species.
Management Fact Sheet No. 5 Sharks.

13 Comments

  1. There are no proven attacks by hammerhead sharks world wide. Most of the sharks caught are harmless as are Tawny sharks and Sandbar sharks (Grey Nurse) No one swims off Cairns. It is all mud. 

    This shark culling programme is senseless and should be stopped.  The by catch of innocent marine creatures is far greater than the catch of so called dangerous sharks. 
    Valerie Taylor AM

    • Everyone has to remember the term “confirmed to be unprovoked” is usually referred
       to as a shark attack yet there is a big difference.

    • Mick Labudda

      Valarie.. 35 years ago we hardly saw one ..thanks largley to you and your mates …now  you dont even have to hit a fish .. you just pull the triger and their there !! QLD s program is just fine …the east coast needs to up grade the gws cull now b4 we have the west coast problem…

      • Oz

        Mick – your an idiot!!   

        As many people have argued – sharks attacks are so minimal – more people die from obesity etc etc..  blah blah…. and Culling doesnt work anyway blah blah etc… But aprat from all that evidence – why are we culling sharks off Cairns in summer when no one swims because of the box jellies 

  2. Valerie I’m surprised that someone with as much experience as you still thinks that GNS are harmless!
    I can show you footage and tell you many accounts of close calls and having to get out of the water because of those things.
    I’d rather swim with tigers.

    • Tony Baker

      Glad to see all of you believe we should be killing sharks purely so you can spear fish. Valerie Taylor (and I hope it’s the real Valerie!!) is right – GNS are not a problem. The problem is that you have conditioned them to respond to the sound of a speargun. You are also a direct competitor for food. Perhaps you should try fishing with a rod and reel. What you’re doing is similar to hunting zebra in front of a pack of lions. Bryson – you go ahead and swim with tigers. That way we won;t be subject to any more of your inane opinions.

  3. John Harding

    Very interesting to see there is no shortage of sharks along the coast and the yearly catches have been much the same (or consistent) over ten years.

  4. Barbara Wueringer

    Could you please post the references with the article? cheers

    • Hi Barbara,
      Many times Helmut our editor gathers info from several different sources. Shark Year Magazine and Shark Attack Survivors operates on an 100% accuracy rate. I’m sure Helmut will send you or post the source of the info. Helmut is regarded as one of the most reliable sources of shark information in the world.
      Al Brenneka
      SYM and  SAS

    • Hi Barbara,
      I have just added a list of the main sources at the end of the article (below the figures).
      Helmut

  5. We stopped putting links to the exact article years ago.  Way to many org’s tried to claim our work was theirs. 

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