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OPINION: Newspaper “Beef Berley” report wrong to blame fishos for shark attacks

AN attempt by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper to blame anglers for an increase in shark attacks on the NSW North Coast is yet another example of the mainstream media’s ineptitude when it comes to fisheries issues.

The newspaper has today published a series of articles focusing on recent great white shark attacks on surfers around the Ballina region.

One of the articles published by the Telegraph claims that anglers are using “beef” as berley for mako sharks and inadvertently encouraging great whites closer to shore so they can “stalk” and eat hapless surfers.

This is pretty silly stuff.

Notwithstanding the fact that using mammal blood or meat for shark berley is illegal, most mako fishing tends to take place on or near the continental shelf. That’s at least 20 miles east of any beach near Ballina. Why would a great white shark berleyed by some nut allegedly chucking “beef” in 100 fathoms of water out on the shelf suddenly feel the urge to swim 20 miles to the west and then eat a surfer?

And where does the idea of using “beef” to berley up makos come from? Makos are fish eating sharks. They are designed to catch and eat fish like gemfish and tuna, which is why anglers who target makos use tuna oil and fish for berley and bait. As far as I’m aware, makos aren’t particularly well known for their predilection towards a nice piece of scotch fillet or rump steak …

This “beef berley” nonsense sounds suspiciously like a beat up to me. Or should that be “beef up”? Regardless, the Tele does NSW’s 1 million anglers no favours by attempting to blame us for an increase in shark attacks on the state’s beaches by publishing this sort of guff.

That said, there are real issues relating to the use of berleying techniques by dive companies seeking to profit from the upsurge in great white shark numbers. Shark cage diving is becoming increasingly popular in South Australia and there are growing concerns that this sort of activity is “conditioning” the sharks to equate humans with food.

Great whites, like most sharks, are highly migratory so it’s not unreasonable to speculate that some of the sharks currently off Ballina were previously in SA waters where they may well have been berleyed up by dive companies so thrill seekers could pay large amounts of money for the privilege of “swimming” with them.

So what happens when a shark used to getting a free feed whenever people in black wetsuits appear in the water sees a bunch of surfers in black wetsuits paddling around off Ballina or Byron Bay?

Death and mayhem happen, that’s what!

I’ll admit the above is pure speculation on my part. I have no evidence that shark cage berleying in SA is the reason why there are more shark attacks in northern NSW. While it sounds vaguely plausible, it would be irresponsible to publish such material.

Probably just as irresponsible as publishing a piece suggesting that anglers are hurling lumps of cow into the water in order to incite great white sharks into a killing rampage …

Jim Harnwell is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Fishing World.

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