According to the Australian Geographic, there have been only 194 fatal shark attacks since 1798 placing it near the very bottom of a list of causes of human death. At the same time a study in the Northwest Atlantic published in the journal Science estimated that from 1986 to 2003 there were declines of up to 75% in shark populations.
By Socialist Party reporters Perth
Many shark species including the Great White shark are critically endangered as a species. As apex predators, they play a vital role in maintaining balance in marine ecology.
Despite these massive decreases in shark populations, and the importance of sharks to marine ecology, in December last year the Barnett government in Western Australia introduced a new policy allowing for the culling of sharks greater than 3 meters in length found near Perth and the southwest part of the state.
The government claims this is in response to an increase in the number of fatal attacks in the last couple of years and more recently the death of surfer Chris Boyd in November off WA’s southwest coast. In reality it is a kneejerk reaction that will have dire consequences for the environment. There is no evidence that it will help save lives.
The policy involves laying out drum lines off the coast. This would not only impact on sharks but would also kill a large number of other marine animals.
In early January a rally of about 4000 gathered at Cottesloe beach with people voicing their opposition to this policy. In late January the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt further angered people by exempting WA from laws relating to the conservation and protection of sharks opening the door to the shark culling policy that is now in place.
In late January the first shark was killed under this policy and it was reported in the news that Barnett was “pleased” with this outcome. In early February another rally took place at Cottesloe Beach this time with about 6000 people attending. Other smaller rallies have also taken place nationally and overseas.
The Socialist Party attended the February rally handing out over 3000 leaflets and gathering almost 800 signatures on a petition. Colin Barnett was travelling to Cape Town in South Africa at the time for a mining conference where he was met with another rally upon his arrival.
From 1959 to 1976, a shark cull program operated in Hawaii resulting in the death over 4500 sharks. Despite the large number of sharks killed, there were no appreciable decreases in the number of shark attacks ultimately leading to the decision to reverse the policy. Experts from Hawaii have criticized the Barnett government’s policy and have stated that any increase in shark attacks is due to overfishing and the sharks mistaking humans for fish.
The Socialist Party demands that Barnett reverse this devastating policy immediately. The state government is spending $5000 a day to cull sharks and at the same time is cutting all government department budgets including the Department of Fisheries.
Barnett hoped to win support for this policy and to divert people’s attention away from the other issues that WA is facing. This move has backfired badly with recent opinion polls showing 80% of people are against this policy.
A much more effective approach would be to increase funding for scientific studies on the behaviour and migration of sharks, to increase tagging and monitoring activities and to educate people to act responsibly when they enter the ocean. At the same time we need to stop big business overfishing our oceans. Only a socialist plan of production could ensure that our resources are used efficiently while our environment is duly protected.