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‘There’s often blood on the wharf’: Shark fishing ban ignored during COVID-19, Tathra locals say | Bega District News



shark fishing, Tathra Wharf

While shark fishing from the Tathra Wharf was outlawed over 20 years ago, residents are concerned the prohibited practice is continuing unchecked. It is a practice with a long history in the town, yet due to the wharf’s close proximity to the town’s busy swimming beach Bega Valley Shire Council bowed to public pressure in the late 1990s, banning it from the popular tourist fishing spot. Six unprovoked shark attacks have been recorded in the state this year, including two deaths and two injuries. Six Australians have lost their lives to sharks this year, while a further six have been injured in attacks. Seventeen-year-old Tathra resident Minka Warratah said she saw an increase in shark fishing from the wharf during the initial stages of the COVID-19 shutdown period a few months ago. When she came across the carcass of a bronze whaler, with teeth removed, laying below the water under the wharf while diving a few months ago, she decided to investigate the issue for a high school project. She and her friends have witnessed the shark fishing ban being disregarded at the wharf at least four times in recent months. “During corona a lot of young people have been doing it. It was pretty prevalent,” she said. “It’s really distressing.” Her survey of 183 residents found almost 95 per cent think the ban should be enforced, more than 70 per cent are less likely to use the water near the wharf due to shark fishing and one quarter were not aware of the ban. She said her recent protests to fishers have been ignored, and phone calls to council have been “pointless” as “by the time council responds they [the fishers] are no longer there”. “I knew shark fishing there was a thing, but now it’s regular. There is often blood on the wharf in the morning, so you know what’s been going on,” she said. Former resident Steve Blackley was the force behind having the practice stopped in the late 1990s, after witnessing the catching of one shark attracting other sharks to the wharf close to where children were surfing the beach break nearby. “It wasn’t that they were berleying and attracting the sharks, it’s that when the big sharks were being caught and fighting the line they became like a beacon to other sharks,” Mr Blackley said. “It didn’t seem right to me to be doing anything to increase the risk to people swimming and surfing. “People often don’t understand that sharks can sense low frequency vibrations from a large distance, so if a shark is thrashing around while being caught, it can attract other sharks. “It’s not a responsible thing to be doing anywhere near a popular swimming beach. I’m still not aware of any other place in Australia, or the world, that would tolerate it.” He took a petition to local government, who he said were initially not interested in stopping the practice, saying it was of low priority. He said a close encounter by surf club members with a large great white, just off the beach, helped lead to action being taken in 1997. “If you enter the ocean there’s always some risk, but deliberately doing anything with the potential to enhance risk flies in the face of community safety. The consequences are too high, and council has a clear duty of care to manage risk,” Mr Blackley said. He said he has heard the practice has become more common over the last five years. The fine for disobeying the prohibited fishing sign at the wharf is just $110. Council’s director of community, environment and planning, Dr Alice Howe, said no recent fines have been handed for the offence. “Council rangers patrol the area as resources allow, but have not recently found anyone at the wharf undertaking this activity,” she said. In 2016, swimmer Christine Armstrong was tragically killed near the wharf by a shark the NSW Department of Primary Industries think was most likely a large great white. In the months before the attack a resident reported being followed to her car after confronting shark fishers at the wharf, and council acknowledged they were aware the practice was still being carried out. In 2012, then Tathra Surf Life Saving Club surf boat captain Sharon Clarke said she was concerned swimmers were being put in danger when she discovered shark bait sitting in the water just 150 metres from as many as 100 summer swimmers nearby. According to shark spotting app Dorsal, a surflifesaving drone spotted an unspecified sized great white near the flagged area of the beach in January, and a member of the public spotted a juvenile of the same species in late February near the wharf. Data from the state government’s SMART drumline tag and relocation program last year shows six white sharks, three tiger sharks and two bronze whalers, one of them measuring 2.8 metres, were located in just under two months at Tathra. Two of the white sharks had previously been tagged and released at Tuncurry, and one was later tagged and released at Sussex Inlet. Far South Coast district fisheries officer Matthew Proctor said he has passed on complaints he has received about illegal shark fishing at the wharf to council. Mr Proctor said the department frequently patrols the wharf, but does not have the jurisdiction to enforce council’s wharf shark fishing ban. He said fisheries officers are only able to enforce state government fishing regulations, including laws protecting species like great whites and grey nurse sharks which should be released if caught, and not harmed in any way. Mr Proctor was involved in the investigation surrounding Ms Armstrong’s death, and said the combination of high water temperature, reduced visibility in the water, the early morning hours, and traveling fish season may have contributed to the likelihood of an attack. “Anyone who swims in the sea is taking a calculated risk, just as you do when you drive a car on the road,” he said. “There’s several hazards and risk factors people need to consider before they enter the marine environment.”. Tathra resident Angela Robbers, whose uncle regularly fishes off the wharf, witnessed a hammerhead shark being caught and killed from the wharf last year. She said a large crowd had formed around the shark, and even though she was unaware the practice was prohibited, she approached the fishers to ensure the animal was not a protected species. “I chatted to a cafe customer who came over to me wanting to know what was happening. He wanted to know if he should contact NSW Fisheries. We searched some information, and were aware that the species was not protected, but nothing showed us that the council could be contacted,” she said. “I was concerned about the impact it may have on the Tathra community using the bay for swimming including nippers the next day. “I really had no idea that council can issue a fine. “Nobody was talking about that on the day.” READ ALSO

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