Abalone diver wants chumming ban at white shark hot spot

Abalone diver wants chumming ban at white shark hot spot

A former abalone diver wants the architects of a new marine park to ban fishing at a white shark hot spot to stop filmmakers using bait to rile up the predators.  

Key points:

  • The proposed South Coast Marine Park could stretch from near Bremer Bay to the South Australian border
  • A former abalone diver thinks the marine park could be designed to stop filmmakers dropping bait in the water
  • The WA Fishing Industry Council believes his idea would put further pressure on commercial fisheries

Salisbury Island, about 85 nautical miles south-east of Esperance on WA’s south coast, has held a special place in Marc Payne’s heart since he first went diving there in 1998 and found it teeming with white sharks.

The place is among conservation organisation Mission Blue’s designated “hope spots”, which are areas “scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean”.

Mr Payne said it was one of the world’s only shark hot spots that remained relatively untouched and free of activities such as eco-tourism and cage-diving.

But he said it was at risk from documentary makers using bait to chum the water and stir up sharks for their cameras.

“In Esperance, obviously, there’s a lot of issues with chumming and baiting sharks,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t like it — we’ve obviously got our shark attack issues in town.

“[And] scientifically there’s a massive amount of evidence to keep this place the way it is — where we don’t go there and change [shark] behaviour through baiting.”

An aerial photo shows a boat and blue water

Salisbury Island is off the state’s south coast.(Supplied: Finding Salisbury)

Mr Payne, whose wife Shelley Payne is a Labor Party MLA,  was not against all filming.

He has made shark documentaries in the area himself, with one university collaboration involving the use of baited cameras.

But he was against filmmakers who dropped large quantities of chum into the water column beside their boats, without clear ethical, scientific or community consideration. 

The issue has caused tensions in the past, as some feared the use of chum led to sharks associating boats and humans with food.

A spokesperson from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development said the use of attractants was prohibited “while undertaking shark tourism on aquatic eco-tours or fishing tours”.

He said the department had banned the use of white shark attractants in certain locations, to take or attempt to take protected fish like white sharks and if it included blood or offal. 

Mr Payne said a plan to create a new marine park provided the perfect opportunity to stamp out the practise around Salisbury. 

He sits on a rock in a drawstring hat and boots

Marc Payne wants fishing to be banned around Salisbury Island.(Supplied: Finding Salisbury)

Call for fishing ban

The state government and traditional owners are now drafting the South Coast Marine Park, which could stem from Bremer Bay through to the South Australian border.

Mr Payne said as part of that process, the waters around Salisbury Island could be declared a no fishing zone.

He believed that was the simplest way to prevent chumming, otherwise the use of bait in the fishing sector could create loopholes.

A department spokesperson did not comment on his claim, saying that as the marine park planning process was underway, he could not say what activities may be allowed or what permits may be required.  

A spokesperson from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said the protection status of areas of high value, such as Salisbury Island, would be considered in the park’s drafting. 

Mr Payne said the move should have minimal impact on commercial operators, as it was already closed to the gill net fishery. 

A shark pictured with its eyes near the camera, underwater

Salisbury Island is a white shark hot spot. (Supplied: Finding Salisbury)

But WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive Darryl Hockey said a ban would create problems for other commercial fishermen as they would be forced to operate in a smaller area. 

“Yes Salisbury Island is very important but there are hundreds of other islands along the coast that are also very important,” he said.

“If we start locking areas up that means that our fishers get less and less access to this resource which means in turn we end up importing more and more food from overseas — often from unsustainable sources.

“It’s important that we still have access to these areas to make sure they are fished carefully and lightly.”

He believed it would be possible to bring in a rule that banned chumming for filmmaking purposes but permitted commercial fishing.

He stands in a shark-cage being pulled up from underwater

Marc Payne hopes to live-stream underwater vision from near Salisbury Island in the future.(Supplied: Finding Salisbury)

Low-impact tourism opportunity

Mr Payne said stopping chumming would create low impact opportunities on the island.

He said it would be more attractive to top-tier filmmakers, who wanted to capture sharks authentically — using hidden cameras to film them going about their business rather than feeding on piles of bait. 

He also said a virtual tourism experience could be created, where cameras were dropped underwater to live-stream to audiences all over the world. 

“Then your schools, and your universities, and your authorities, and just the general public can log in and see this location without anyone even having to be there,” he said.

“I think that’s the step forwards with looking after environments like Salisbury in the future.”

He said the location’s value should not be determined just in monetary terms, but in environmental and educational.

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