‘Gagged’: Activists’ fury over new shark laws
A global animal protection lobby force has called for permits allowing it to continue documenting sharks kills by the Queensland Government without being hit with hefty new fines.
Humane Society International's Australian arm has accused the Palaszczuk Government of "gagging" it from highlighting the impact of its lethal shark control program by introducing fines of up to $26,000 for anyone caught within 20m of its baited hooks and shark nets.
HSI's Sydney-based marine campaigner Lawrence Chlebeck said the new "exclusion zone" laws, which came into effect last week, would make it illegal to get close enough to photograph sharks, whales and other marine life caught under the state's 60-year-old shark control program.
The ban comes amid a looming courtroom showdown in August between the State Government and HSI over whether the Government can continue to catch and shoot dead sharks caught on baited hooks (described as drum lines) in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Mr Chlebeck said photographs published by HSI last year and earlier this year of trapped hammerhead, bull and tiger sharks caught on drum lines in the marine park had provoked "a lot of anger" over the lethal nature of the shark control program.
"We believe that (the exclusion zones) were just an effort by Queensland Government to, for lack of a better word, gag conservation groups from obtaining the images that we published last year," he said.
"It's disappointing for us because it's really important for the public to see the true cost of Queensland's shark control program.
"Whether it's tourism dollars coming into the economy or criticism coming down on the program itself, not being able to obtain these images solves a number of problems for (the Government)."
"I do agree that the public should not approach shark control equipment, but if there was a permit system in place that would be something we could work within the bounds of and we could avoid it looking like they are just trying to gag us."
The group first called for an exemption to the new exclusion zones last November, saying the public had the right to see what "nets and drum lines are doing to turtles, whales, sharks and other marine wildlife."
Fisheries Minister Mark Furner did not respond to The Courier-Mail's question about calls for a permit system, but rejected it was gagging debate about the program.
He said the exclusion zone laws came after instances of people using the shark control apparatus as turning markers, as well as reports of people removing caught sharks, or taking hooks and bait used to catch dangerous sharks.
"This is extremely dangerous behaviour that could cause serious injury or death," he said.
"Only authorised, trained personnel may enter the 20 metre exclusion zone."
The Tribunal decision cited "overwhelming" scientific evidence that "the lethal component of the shark control program does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions."
"The problem with that argument is that there have been no negative shark interactions recorded at many beaches where there is no (shark control program); and fatal shark incidents have occurred at beaches outside the Marine Park where a (shark control program) is in place," the AAT decision found.
"The statistics show that one in five of the fatal shark attacks in Queensland occurred at (shark control program) controlled beaches even though those beaches are only a very small part of the coastline," it continued.
"That doesn't prove anything but it rather weakens the logic of the argument that the (shark control program) has proven a success because there have been no attacks on (shark control program) controlled beaches in the Marine Park".
The AAT also heard expert evidence that there had been an average 2.3 shark interactions a year in Queensland over the past seven years, one of which was fatal.
But one marine expert put the figure into perspective in the AAT hearing by stating that cows were responsible for more deaths each year than sharks.
The AAT decision forced the temporary removal of 173 baited drum lines from the Great Barrier Reef Marine park.
But drum lines were reinstated after the Federal Court stayed the decision pending an appeal.
A hearing date for Government's appeal of the decision has been scheduled for August.