Senator Rachel Siewert has introduced a Private Members Bill, the Save our Sharks Bill 2014, to prevent the Minister for the Environment from granting another exemption under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) to the Western Australian Government to permit the setting of drum lines to catch large sharks and protect local beaches. This follows the unsuccessful attempt by Sea Shepherd Australia to have a judicial review of the granting of the exemption of the activity by the WA Government under the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 (WA). However this will not prevent the approval of a new drum line proposal.
Senator Siewert claims that the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has abused the exemption provision of the Act that was intended for national emergencies. Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for the Environment, had earlier said that it was extraordinary for it to be used as a matter of political convenience for a particular state government.
There have been 11 recorded shark fatalities in WA up to 1990 and a further 14 from then to April 2014. Of the 25 attacks in total fourteen have been by great white sharks, nine by tiger sharks, and one by a bull shark. Great white sharks have been responsible for all but one of the 13 fatal attacks in the state since 1995.
The target shark species caught by drum lines over three months of the trial period included 163 tiger sharks and one bull shark, 49 of which were three metres in length or more and destroyed. Of the other tiger sharks and bull shark less than three metres that were caught on the lines, 114 (91%) were tagged and released alive. There were 13 non-target sharks and rays caught during this time. One unidentified three metre shark also self-released from a drum line.
No great white sharks were caught. Due to previous low rates of white shark catch from targeted fishing and tagging off WA and in drum lines off Queensland it was expected that there would likely be less than 10 caught during the trial period.
Greg Hunt’s 10 January 2014 letter to the WA Premier Colin Barnett granting the EPBC exemption said any extension of drum line baiting beyond 30 April 2014 would require referral and assessment under the EPBC Act.
On 8 April 2014, after the Save our Sharks Bill 2014 was introduced into the Senate, the WA Government referred a new drum line proposal to the Commonwealth for approval under the EPBC Act. It would cover the same areas of beach off Perth and the South West as the trial. There would be a maximum of 60 drum lines in the water at any one time over the 15 November to 30 April period for the next three years, ceasing on 30 April 2017.
Since the WA Government has not applied for an exemption from the EPBC assessment and approval process Senator Siewert’s Bill, even if passed, will have no effect on the final outcome of whether or not the proposal is approved.
The proposal was also referred to the WA Environmental Protection Authority who have decided that it should be assessed via a Public Environmental Review. This will include a public consultation period and the resulting report and recommendations to the WA Minister for the Environment will be open to appeal.
Greg Hunt decided, on 7 May 2014, that the proposal requires assessment and approval under EPBC Act before it can proceed. Since there is a Bilateral Agreement under the EPBC Act in place the Commonwealth assessment will be carried out by WA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Senator Siewert is concerned that the WA Government as the proponent was also assessing the proposal via the WA EPA. "I have serious doubts about the EPA's capacity to independently assess the WA Government's shark cull plan. As we have seen with issues like James Price Point, the EPA failed to carry out a proper assessment.”