North Coast shark net trial

The NSW Government has commenced a six-month trial of shark nets, to reduce the risk of shark encounters on the North Coast. The trial will complement the Government’s $16 million Shark Management Strategy, and the ongoing Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program from Newcastle to Wollongong.

DPI has met with community representatives to inform them of the trial, including possible locations. DPI also conducted a survey seeking community views.

The trial is approved under Schedule 6D to the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (PDF, 44.81 KB) which aims to promote safe use and enjoyment by the public of coastal beaches and other tidal waters by facilitating shark management trials.

The trial will be carried out in accordance with the Management Plan for the NSW North Coast Shark MeshingTrial (PDF, 428.6 KB).

DPI have prepared the Fauna Disentanglement Plan (PDF, 416.86 KB) in accordance with the Management Plan

Shark net trial facts

  • Shark nets are installed near a beach, according to prevailing conditions, generally parallel to the beach near surf clubs and patrolled swimming areas
  • Shark nets do not create an enclosed area, or provide a barrier between beachgoers and sharks. They are designed to reduce the likelihood of shark interactions by catching large, potentially dangerous sharks aggregating near the netted beach
  • Shark nets currently used in NSW are 150 metres long by 6 metres deep, with a mesh size of 60 cm, set below the surface in about 10 to 12 metres of water, within 500 metres of the shore
  • Shark nets are fitted with ‘whale alarms’ and ‘dolphin pingers’ to deter marine mammals from the netted area
  • NSW North Coast Shark Meshing Trial Reports:

See the Shark Net factsheet (PDF, 472.2 KB) for more information

See the locations of shark nets and smart drumlines on the North Coast (PDF, 95.82 KB)

See the NSW North Coast SMART drumlines reports.

Frequently asked questions

The Government has an obligation to do all it can to ensure public safety – balancing the benefits of its actions with any impacts on wildlife and the environment.  It has made the decision following a spate of shark attacks on the north coast and calls from sections of the local community to introduce shark meshing nets.  The Government believes shark nets are worth trialling - along with all possible measures to reduce the loss of life of non-target marine animals coming up against the nets. Coastal communities need to have some areas made as safe as possible from ocean predators.

The number and location of shark mesh nets on the north coast was decided based on community views expressed via stakeholder groups and a feedback survey. Five north coast beaches will have nets deployed including Sharpes, Shelly and Lighthouse beaches at Ballina; Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head; and Main Beach at Evans Head. These beaches received strong support during recent phone and online surveys, which showed 54 per cent of 600 Ballina and Evans Head residents surveyed felt the trial would have a positive impact on the community.

They will be set generally in line with how they are used in the Newcastle to Wollongong shark meshing area, but with possible modifications to suit local conditions.  They are generally installed parallel to the beach near surf clubs and patrolled swimming areas. Shark nets currently used in NSW are 150 metres long by 6 metres deep, with a mesh size of 60cm. They are a ‘mid-water net’ set below the surface in about 10 to 12 metres of water, within 500 metres of the shore.

There has been only one fatality at a netted beach between Newcastle and Wollongong in the last 70 years. The frequency of shark interactions with people dropped considerably after nets were installed around Sydney and in Queensland - compared to what it had been previously. Mesh netting programs of course don’t prevent all shark interactions because they are not full-beach barriers.

They are passive fishing nets designed to catch large sharks by entangling them; to reduce the numbers of dangerous sharks aggregating near the netted beach; and above all, to reduce the likelihood of shark interactions. They do NOT create an enclosed area, or provide a barrier between beachgoers and sharks.

Contractors will set and check the nets, with a trained DPI observer present on every trip.

Nets will be fitted with whale alarms and dolphin pingers to deter marine mammals. While the Sydney nets are checked at least once every 72 hours, it is proposed that more frequent checking will be done for the North Coast trial. The exact regime will be informed by community feedback. It is also proposed to trial the use of SMART automatic alert devices so that a meshing contractor can be notified and respond quickly to release any trapped animals.

The Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2014-15 Annual Performance Report indicates there were a total of 189 entanglements of marine animals on 51 nets during the 2014-15 meshing season, comprised of 44 with target sharks, and 145 with non-target marine life. It is important to note, however, that the number of non-target species caught in the nets can vary considerably year to year and the Far North Coast waters are more biologically diverse than those of the temperate waters further south with more abundant marine life.

More information

Deterrent devices will be used to deter dolphins from the immediate area of the net. However, if dolphins or green turtles are inadvertently caught, it is unlikely they would survive for more than 30 minutes. Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles are likely to be able to survive for considerably longer than this.

The trial will start in December 2016 and run for six months. This period will avoid most of the whale migration time.

DPI will trial running the nets together with SMART drumlines which allow captured sharks to be tagged, relocated and released.

The nets are lightweight gear are not firmly fixed to the seafloor in the same way that barriers are. They can be removed from the water if very rough conditions are forecast.

Two types of information will be used to evaluate the trial. First, how effective are the nets at catching target sharks with minimal impact on other marine animals. Second, how acceptable the approach is to the community in terms of reducing risk of shark bites.

Whenever safe and practical to do so. Potentially dangerous White, Bull and Tiger sharks will be relocated further out to sea before being released.

Nets will be fitted with the most sophisticated dolphin pingers available. However, even with the best available technology and regular checking, the nature of mesh nets means that some dolphins may be caught and killed.

That will depend on the outcome of the trial and the community’s reaction to the trial.

It is possible that some Grey Nurse Sharks might be entangled during the course of the trial. These sharks generally have a relatively good survival rate in the Sydney meshing program and can usually be released alive.

It depends on what has been caught and the extent to which they have become entangled. Sometimes, the net has to be cut away in order to release the captured animal.

DPI has established a mobile drop-in centre on the meshing trial. This stand has been at a number of North Coast locations in November and December. A phone poll of 600 Ballina and Evans Head residents had strong results:

  • 57% were ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned for the community about shark bites
  • 54% felt the trial would have a positive impact on the community, compared with 12% who felt it would have a negative impact
  • 63% of surfers felt the trial would have a positive impact.

More than 5400 people also participated in an online survey and dropped in to a the community stand in Ballina, with those results similarly supportive of the trial, with 61% of surfers believing it would be a positive initiative for the area. Key stakeholders continue to be consulted and media interviews conducted to disseminate information.

Assessing shark mesh netting off Ballina and Evans Head

DPI conducted initial testing in November 2016 to assess and refine the operational characteristics of shark mesh netting in local conditions off the northern NSW coast.

The aim is to ensure an appropriate methodology, adapted to the conditions, is developed for the start of a six month netting trial this year off five beaches in the Ballina and Evans Heads area.

As part of this initial testing, a single 150 × 4 metre net was successfully deployed and retrieved off Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach in 6 to 8 m of water and in front of the Evans Head Surf Club about 600 metres from the beach in 5 to 6 m depth.

The weather conditions encompassed winds of up to 18 knots and a swell of up to 2m.

  • The netting was successfully deployed in the conditions.  It took 15–17 min to deploy a net, 15 min to check from a small zodiac, and 30–40 min to retrieve completely.
  • Over the course of the trial, including 48 hours in the water at Evans Head, no marine catch was harmed. Six animals were entangled at Evans Head, including four white spotted guitarfish (one of which was caught twice) and one mobula ray.  All five were females and all were released alive within minutes of observation.
  • Based on the conditions of the river bar and wind on one evening, it was considered too dangerous to retrieve the net using the contracted vessel so it was checked using the zodiac launched from the Evans Head marina.
  • Dolphins were present at Lighthouse Beach on deployment of the net, but disappeared from the surface after an acoustic deterrent was tied to a length of rope and towed alongside the vessel.
  • The net was successfully tested with three dolphin pingers (25 metres from each end and in the middle) and two whale acoustic deterrents 50 metres from each end.
  • In addition to regular checking from the vessels, a conventionally-rigged SMART buoy was configured at the end of the northern panel but did not alert to catches in the net.
  • A simple buoy mechanism for alerting to entanglements in the net was shown to have potential.

The testing showed the configuration and design of shark mesh nets to be used are suitable to north coast conditions.

Once deployed, the mesh net can be rapidly checked using a small vessel during a range of weather conditions.  Retrieval of the net on-board a larger vessel, however, could be difficult and dangerous in more than calm-to-moderate seas due to the net’s proximity to shore.

An alert system comprising small ‘coloured orange marker’ (COM) buoys at the surface that disappear when an animal is entangled showed promise.  If such buoys continue to prove successful, future research could investigate the development of an associated electronic alert system.