Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thousands protest shark culling policy

About 7000 people rallied at Cottesloe Beach in Perth on February 1 to protest against the shark culling policy of the Western Australian Liberal government.

This “catch and kill” policy requires the Western Australian Department of Fisheries to maintain baited drum lines 1.4 kilometres off the coast. Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt granted an exemption for this under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because it is in the “national interest” of protecting public safety and tourism.

The rally was one of many held around Australia, as well as in New Zealand and South Africa.

At Manly beach in Sydney about 1500 people rallied in solidarity, while 500 people in Melbourne marched from the State Library to Flinders Street station.

The policy has already resulted in the deaths of at least three tiger sharks caught on baited drum lines. No body knows how many sharks will have died from their injuries on the drumlines after being released.

The first was on January 26 when a 3-metre female tiger shark was caught by a fisheries department boat after being stuck on a hook for 12 hours. It was shot four times before being gutted and dumped back into the sea.

The second death was a 2-metre tiger shark that was pulled from a baited drumline off Leighton Beach on the morning of the protest.

Polls show between 80% to 95% of Western Australians oppose the governments culling policy. Greens parliamentarian Lynn MacLaren has 79,000 signatures on a petition to be presented to parliament.

The movement has gained support from a wide cross section of society. At the Cottesloe Beach rally, one of the protestors, Pat Murphy, who swims in the ocean every day, said: “All I can say to Colin Barnett as a Liberal supporter, Colin Barnett you let us down big time.”

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd said: “People are saying an ocean without sharks is a planet without people. We need to give them the respect they deserve and that’s really humbling.”

Federal Greens leader and Senator Christine Milne slammed the Abbott government and particularly Hunt for complicity in giving the state government the green light for the “catch and kill policy”.

Tim Nicol of the Western Australian Conservation Council said: “There was no science to say the ocean ‘was crawling with sharks’ and no research proving drumlines made beaches safer”.

Author, journalist and shark expert Hugh Edwards called for more research and government funding for policies such as the tracking and tagging of sharks to monitor their movements.

[This article by Alex Salmon was written for Green Left Weekly #996.]