To Cull or Not to Cull – Western Australia’s Shark Cull Dead in the Water

Re-post from The Inertia – “Western Australia’s Shark Cull Dead in the Water” – by Alexander Haro


Western Australia has been the center of the shark culling debate for a long time now. But after a thirteen week trial period, the controversial drum lines will be pulled from WA’s waters. I have been very vocal about my stance on the shark cull, so for me, this is good news.

For anyone living either a under rock or a complete media black out, WA’s shark policy (not officially called a cull) came after the death of Chris Boyd. The policy established baited drum lines offshore in special monitored zones, then employed professional shark fisherman to catch and kill sharks. The kill zones, dubbed a very diplomatic “Marine Monitored Areas,” stretched from Quinns to Warnbro, and Forest Beach to Cape Naturaliste and Prevelly in the state’s south. Baited drum lines were anchored within one kilometer from the shore, and any shark larger than 10 feet in the kill zones was shot and dragged further out to sea.

Of course, as with any proposal that tries to put a value on either human life of animal life, the cull drew heavy criticism from both sides of the debate.  The policy was set to be reviewed after it ran its course – and for the duration of that course, things got pretty ugly. While initial plans to contract out the culling to private fishing outfits were in place, officials decided to use the fisheries department instead after one of the outfits pulled out after his family was threatened.

“We had a successful tenderer,” said Fisheries Mininster Ken Baston to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “but that tenderer did pull out with the worry of threats to himself and his family.”

Many groups threatened sabotage to the drum lines, and penalties were put in place for anyone caught tampering with them. Strict penalties – up to $25,000 and a year in prison for an individual and a $50,000 fine for groups. There was in international outcry, with thousands protesting in Perth and over 25,000 signatures on petitions against the culling measure, which is interesting, because the brunt of the protests were focused only on the cull in WA’s waters. Australia (along with other countries) has been using different methods of catching and killing sharks along their coastlines in the interests of protecting swimmers.

But after the testing period, the state’s Environmental Protection Authority has advised against extending the catch and kill policy because of a lack of scientific evidence of its success. The testing period ran from January to April, and 172 sharks were caught. Sixty-eight were killed, and the government initially wanted to continue the program for three more years. It has until September 25th to appeal the EPA’s decision. While the policy was put in place mainly for great whites, the baited drum lines failed to catch any – in fact, according to the WA government, 94% were tiger sharks, which are considered a near threatened species, and have not been responsible for a fatal attack in the region since 1929.

EPA Chairman Paul Vogel stated that the decision to pull the drum lines from the ocean did not factor in how the program would or would not promote public safety; rather it came from an environmental standpoint.

With the program’s demise, the drum lines will be removed from Australia’s waters, preventing animals from accidentally becoming hooked on them. And while the drum lines may have been discontinued in Western Australia, both drum lines, nets, and other forms of shark management still exist elsewhere in the country.