2.35m female white shark tagged off Evans Head.
2.35m female white shark tagged off Evans Head. NSW DPI

Great white shark census could justify cull: Fisherman

A BYRON Bay fisherman and surfer has called for a 'census' of the great white shark population, and says if their numbers are proven to be on the rise it could justify a limited cull.

Mark "Mono" Stewart said sharks were "definitely increasing" and the spike in attacks and encounters couldn't only be blamed on more people in the water.

"There hasn't been a study on great white numbers for 20 years," he said.

"Twenty or 30 years ago you rarely saw a white in the surf ... I've surfed my whole life, and I've seen more whites in the last two or three years than in my life.

"The amount of juvenile whites that are seen nowadays, we need some scientific research to see just how many there are.

"I guarantee you they're not endangered now.

"We need to find out if that protection needs to be lifted in certain circumstances."

Population question mark

The usual number cited by research authorities on white shark numbers on the east coast of Australia is between 1000-1200.

In comparison, a recent California study revealed the white shark population was 2400, and "healthy and growing".

'Limited' cull justified

Mr Stewart said he believed sharks should be killed or relocated when they were seen hanging around an area immediately after a serious or fatal attack.

"I believe if there's an attack there should be a response team to get out there and try to catch that shark immediately," he said.

"What happens when a dingo attacks someone, what happens when a crocodile attacks someone - the first thing they do is kill it.

"They are in the natural environment ... and that animal gets put down."

Currently the only state to have had an official shark culling trial was Western Australia, which ran for three years and was heavily criticised for being ineffective.

But Queensland uses shark baiting drum lines from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast, which are effectively a culling mechanism by a different name.

Marine park brings sharks

Mr Stewart blamed the region's shark problems on the establishment of the Cape Byron Marine Park in 2002.

"It's like setting up a take away food store ... why would you leave an area if there is an excess of food?" he said.

A similar spike in tragic attacks had occurred at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, where a marine park was established in 2007.

He also said the "decimation" of pelagic schools of fish by international trawlers, fish which once stretched for "acres" off the continental shelf had pushed sharks closer to shore.

"We don't see the big schools of yellowfin tuna now, in the old days there was acres of them certain times of year," he said.

"I haven't seen them in years, they're just getting decimated."

But whether or not there has been a rise in white shark numbers remains heavily contested.

Sharks have always been here: diver

For his part, North Coast diver Bill Silvester disagreed with Mr Stewart on the point.

Mr Silvester, who started the Byron Bay Dive Centre decades ago, said when the whaling industry was still operating, "sharks were everywhere" and particularly loved hanging around off the Byron Bay pier.

"They were obviously attracted by the whale blubber and meat," he said.

He himself had a particularly close encounter with a three metre great white in the mid-1970s while diving in the bay to inspect a 500m offal pipe he had built for the local abbatoir.

"When we were in our spear fishing days... the boys got some big scares, they'd spear a fish and coming up the surface to put it away we used to have sharks come up and take the fish.

"I don't think it's any more dangerous (now)."

"Sharks are such amazing creatures, they are the owners of the ocean, if they wanted to attack divers, there would be attacks all over the place."

He said he had spent thousands of hours diving off Julian Rocks and never had a shark encounter.

"One thing I'm confident of they are always in the water, we just don't see them."

Surfers concerned

But there is no doubt that many surfers, if not divers, are psyched out by the recent spike in sightings and attacks.

Mr Stewart, who surfs almost daily, said for the last two years he had avoided going out anywhere south of Lennox Point.

"I don't surf at dawn or dusk anymore," he added.

"It's not a question of if, it's just a matter of when the next fatality happens.

"Hopefully it's not one of our kids next."

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