Pro Fisherman Joel Merchant with just a tiger shark jaw at the Tweed Bar crossing. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News
Pro Fisherman Joel Merchant with just a tiger shark jaw at the Tweed Bar crossing. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News Blainey Woodham

Pro fisherman says sharks increasing in size and number

DOZENS of large sharks thrashing about as they attack fish and each other has become a common sight for Joel Merchant, just metres from his boat as he brings in his lines off the coast of Tweed Heads.

The professional fisherman said in the past eight years he had observed a sharp increase in nearly all shark species.

He said this meant more attacks like the recent Northern Rivers ones were likely.

There have been two shark attacks at Lennox Head in three weeks and a fatal mauling last year in Ballina. Surfers and swimmers are reporting more shark sightings and encounters.

"I have noticed a large increase in the size and number of a range of species from whalers and tigers through to bull sharks," Mr Merchant said.

He operates from Tweed Heads and sells to local fish and chip shops where flake (shark) is popular.

Mr Merchant said weight and length restrictions on shark catches had to be contributing to the attacks.

"Queensland now has a 1.5m limit on some sharks caught and New South Wales has a weekly weight limit of 500kg on sharks, so commonsense tells you the less sharks caught the more there will be out there."

As whales head north to mate in warmer waters, several species of sharks follow the migration in the hope of catching a feed of calves and sick adult whales who may be separated from the pod.

Mr Merchant said as whale migration numbers increased so would the presence of the great white and other large sharks.

"In the last couple of decades the number of whales coming up the coast have more than doubled so you have to expect the big whites to be around as well."

Marine expert Dr Daniel Bucher from Southern Cross University said whale migration and fish runs were bringing the larger predators closer to our beaches which resulted in an increase in human contact.

"It's not so much that they are mistaking us - they know we are not a seal or a dolphin, we're about the right size to be food."

It is understood that informal discussions have begun between Northern Rivers councils on shark protection options.

Ballina Shire Council is looking at implementing permanent aerial patrols and other technology such as sonar deflection devices.


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