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How does the law play a role?

On the first day of the school holidays (26 September, 2016), 17-year-old Cooper Allen was with friends at a popular surfing spot called the North Wall in Ballina, next to the break wall at the mouth of the Richmond River, when he was attacked by a 3.5 metre shark, thought to be a great white.

On 12 October, 2016 there was another shark attack on a surfer in the waters off Sharpes Beach north of Ballina.

This latest shark attack in a series of attacks in Northern New South Wales sparked renewed debate about the shark management and how to best reduce risks for swimmers and surfers.  The debate has drawn focus to the different methods of shark attack prevention used in different parts of Australia, and questions about the effectiveness.

In the northern New South Wales area that includes the beaches at Ballina, traditional drum lines have not been used, despite calls for their introduction, and despite apparent effectiveness of such measure used in other beach areas such as on the Gold Coast and off Manly Beach.

The recent shark attack at Ballina was the 12th shark attack in the area – 2 of which were fatal – in the past 2 years.  Drum lines however have been criticised because of the way in which they invariably kill whatever they hook.

There is also a legal issue in that the drum lines cannot be deployed without federal government approval.  The reason is that drum lines have potential to kill great white sharks, and therefore would need approval to be deployed because of the environmental protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Currently, alternative methods are being deployed in northern New South Wales involving an aerial shark surveillance program.  Drones and helicopters are scanning New South Wales beaches.  The emphasis has been on these alternatives as having lower environmental impact.

How does the law play a role in this debate about reducing the alarming number of shark attacks? In terms of native animals, there is protection afforded to such animals by government law.

In particular, endangered species are protected from harm by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, including wallabies, many birds, turtles, bilbies, and even marine species such as sharks. It is due to the operation of this Act and the potential trigger of its provisions that connects with the call for the deployment of drum lines.

A person commits a criminal offence if they kill such an animal (which includes sharks) with a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $540,000.00.  It is due to the interest of preserving the endangered animals that there is often query when confronted by a dangerous yet endangered animal in the wild.

Apart from this current debate about surfer and swimmers safety on our beach, if you are a bushwalking enthusiast you may encounter a snake, and the law would likely prohibit the killing of the snake even though it is dangerous to humans.

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This Article was written by Mitchell Clark, MBA Partner.

Mitchell was one of the first Lawyers in Queensland to receive (in 1998) specialist accreditation from the Queensland Law Society in the field of Personal Injuries Law.