Fighting the Shark Cull

Greens party hopes to amend controversial policy in West Oz

Protesters in Australia gather to show their disapproval of WA's shark culling policy.

Protesters in Australia gather to show their disapproval of WA’s shark culling policy.

The Greens, an Australian political party, have put forth legislation seeking to end the controversial shark-killing policy in Western Australia that was enacted in December of 2013. The policy was introduced after a series of attacks killed seven people in W.A. over the past three years.

Under the shark cull, the Australian government has paid local fisherman to set drum lines to hook tiger sharks, great whites, and bull sharks. Once caught, sharks more than three meters long are shot to death and their bodies are dumped farther out to sea. As of a March 16 count, more than 110 sharks have been caught under the program, with tigers sharks accounting for the vast majority. Sharks under three meters long are released.

Critics argue that in addition to being brutal, the baited drum lines are counterproductive because they actually draw sharks closer to the shore. There have been a number of public protests and the policy has stirred both celebrities, like Richard Branson and Ricky Gervais, as well as surfers like Dave Rastovich, to publicly condemn it. The environmental organization Sea Shepherd issued a challenge to the shark culling policy and called for judicial review, but it was denied by the Australian Supreme Court.

Under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, great white sharks are actually a protected species. But citing a provision allowing the government to make rare exceptions to the act for national security and emergencies, Greg Hunt, the country's environmental minister, was able to sign an exemption late last year, making the cull lawful.

“Today in the Senate, my colleague, Senator Rachel Siewert, has introduced a bill that, if passed, would cancel out the Federal Minister’s exemption from federal laws protecting the marine environment and in particular species on the threatened and endangered lists,” said Lyn MacLaren, Greens Legislative Council member. “The Greens policy calls for respect for the marine ecosystem and greater understanding rather than this indiscriminate culling approach to respond to WA’s shark hazard. It is evident from the popularity of the No Shark Cull campaign that a great many Western Australians agree.”

According to the Greens, the bill would amend the act retrospectively and force the government to remove the drum lines. Before introducing their legislation, the Greens garnered more than 88,000 signatures on a petition to end the program. However, the shark cull policy is set to expire by the end of April, making it unlikely that it will pass in time to have much of an effect. But according to Senator Christine Milne of the Greens, if the legislation does pass, it will prohibit the government from ever enacting any exceptions citing the national security provision again.

“This bill will prevent the federal environment minister from granting any future exemptions to the act for the purposes of using drum lines to catch sharks," Senator Milne told the website PerthNow.com. "Exempting the shark cull sets a very dangerous precedent. Past exemptions have only been granted for the purposes of defense, security or national emergencies, like bushfires or floods, but not for the active culling or killing of a vulnerable species."