14 dolphins, 24 turtles and 425 stingrays were caught in shark nets on NSW beaches last year

Corinna Halloran/Team SCA

Ninety threatened or protected species were caught in shark nets installed at NSW beaches during the 2015-16 season.

Of those 14 were dolphins – all of them found dead – as well as 425 stingrays, 24 varieties of turtle (19 dead) and one dead seabird.

Also caught were 31 white sharks (21 dead), 19 grey nurse sharks (five dead) and one dead hammerhead shark. That’s 51 sharks in total, according to the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program Annual Performance Report.

An excerpt from the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2015-16 Annual Performance Report.

By comparison, there were three dead common dolphins caught in nets in 2014-15, and the number of stingrays jumped from 86 in the previous year to 425 in 2015-16.

The NSW government claims groups of people, dubbed “ecowarriors”, have been sabotaging these shark nets off Sydney’s beaches. In October, the shark net at Queenscliff, north of Manly, was cut.

“Deliberate acts of malicious damage are not just dangerously foolish, they can attract sentences of up to five years jail under the Crimes Act,” primary industries minister Niall Blair told the Daily Telegraph.

“There were a total of 748 marine life interactions with the SMP [Shark Meshing Program] during the 2015-16 meshing season,” the report reads, “comprised of 133 interactions with target sharks, and 615 interactions with non-target marine life.

“Of those 748 interactions, 384 animals (51%) were released alive.”

These interaction figures are considerably higher than the 189 recorded during the 2014-15 season.

The higher levels of entanglement of threatened species including the Common Dolphin and the Hawksbill has triggered a review which will be finalised in 2017.

The meshing report spans 51 ocean beaches from Wollongong to Newcastle are currently netted between 1 September and 30 April each year using “sunk nets” set below the surface in about 10 to 12 metres of water, within 500 metres of the shore. The nets are fitted with acoustic warning devices to alert dolphins and whales.

Since the introduction of the Shark Meshing Program in 1937 there has been just a single fatal shark attack at a meshed beach in NSW.

The installation of new hi-tech nets was a point of controversy in October last year when premier Mike Baird reversed his opposition to the nets, saying it was time to “prioritise human life over everything”.

The turning point came when a 25-year-old man was bitten at Sharpes Beach — the sixth shark attack between Ballina and Byron Bay in a year.

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