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Western Australia Shark Cull Halted as Environmental Regulator Steps In

The program had drawn criticism from activists, politicians and celebrities around the world.

by Tom Breakwell
Sep 12 2014, 6:00pm

Image via Getty

A shark cull in Western Australia that has drawn criticism from around the world is to be halted after an intervention from the state's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Baited traps known as drum lines were deployed off seven beaches earlier this year as part of a trial in the wake of a number of fatal shark attacks.

The traps were certainly efficient — 172 sharks were caught during the initial 13-week trial. But the program has also been highly controversial, with environmentalists highlighting the impact such a policy could have on not just the wider shark population, but also specifically the Great White Shark, listed as a "vulnerable" species.

After examining a state proposal to continue the deployment of baited drum lines over the next three years, EPA Chairman Paul Vogel stated on Friday that the information submitted on the cull did not provide them "with a high level of confidence." As a result the EPA "adopted a cautious approach by recommending against the proposal."

Despite rejection of the cull, Vogel stated that the EPA supported research into shark behavior and would continue to investigate the further implementation "of non-lethal alternatives."

Criticized in March of this year by the Western Australian Green Party for not investigating the trial, the EPA gave its verdict after months of campaigning by environmentalists.

The drum lines were introduced earlier this year after the federal environment minister Greg Hunt exempted Western Australia under the banner of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, thereby allowing protected sharks to be killed.

During the 2014 trial period none of the sharks caught were Great Whites, to which many of the recent attacks were attributed to. Fifty of them, however, were tiger sharks longer than three meters which were subsequently shot.

The EPA's decision is open to public appeal for the next two weeks until September 25.

The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, and Western Australia environment minister, Albert Jacobs, will then have the final say in October.

But State Premier Colin Barnett told Western Australia's parliament that an appeal was "unlikely," though he voiced his disappointment at the decision.

The cull has proven a contentious and popular topic amongst the Australian public. The EPA said that the proposal bought with it "6751 public submissions" and two petitions that totaled "about 25,000 signatures."

The verdict by the EPA follows a prolonged social media campaign against the culling of sharks. Using the hashtag #nosharkcull, many have been keen to voice their criticism of the cull. Celebrities such as Ricky Gervais have voiced their disapproval of the cull. Gervais joked on Twitter earlier this year that the cull should only go ahead if the sharks target humans in their natural habitat.

Richard Branson also tweeted that the cull should be "condemned around the world."

Politicians within Australia hailed the EPA's move. Green MP Lynn MacLaren, a well-known critic of the program, questioned on Twitter how such a trial went ahead "without any form of environment assessment."

Follow Tom Breakwell on Twitter: @TBreakwell