South Coast Marine Park should ban fishing on Salisbury Island to stop sharks cud-dwelling, diver says

A former abalone diver wants architects of a new marine park to ban fishing at a white shark hotspot to prevent filmmakers from using bait to annoy predators.

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

The place is among the “hope spots” designated by the conservation organization Mission Blue, which are areas “scientifically identified as essential to the health of the ocean”.

Mr Payne said it was one of the only shark hotspots in the world that remained relatively untouched and free from activities such as ecotourism and cage diving.

But he said he was threatened by documentary makers using bait to stir up water and stoke sharks for their cameras.

“At Esperance, obviously, there are a lot of problems with sharks and bait,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t like it – obviously we have our problems with shark attacks in town.

“[And] scientifically there is a massive amount of evidence to keep this place as it is – where we don’t go there and change [shark] baiting behavior.

Salisbury Island lies off the south coast of the state.(Provided: Finding Salisbury)

Mr Payne, whose wife Shelley Payne is a Labor MP, was not against any shooting.

He himself has made documentaries about sharks in the area, with a university collaboration involving the use of baited cameras.

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

The issue has caused tension in the past, as some feared that using chum would lead sharks to associate boats and humans with food.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Primary Industries and Regional Development said the use of attractants was prohibited “when shark tourism on aquatic eco-tours or fishing trips”.

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

Mr Payne said a plan to create a new marine park offered the perfect opportunity to eradicate the practice around Salisbury.

He is sitting on a rock with a drawstring hat and boots
Marc Payne wants fishing banned around Salisbury Island.(Provided: Finding Salisbury)

Call for a fishing ban

The state government and traditional owners are currently developing the South Coast Marine Park, which could stretch from Bremer Bay to the South Australian border.

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

He believed this was the easiest way to prevent chumming, otherwise the use of bait in the fishing industry could create loopholes.

A ministry spokesman did not comment on his request, saying that with the planning process for the marine park underway, he could not say what activities might be permitted or what permits might be required.

A spokesman for the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said the protection status of high value areas, such as Salisbury Island, would be taken into account in drafting the park.

Mr Payne said the move should have minimal impact on commercial operators as it was already closed to gillnet fishing.

A shark photographed with its eyes close to the camera, underwater
Salisbury Island is a hotspot for white sharks. (Provided: 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 which are also very important,” he said.

“If we start locking areas, it means our fishers have less and less access to this resource, which means we end up importing more and more food from abroad – often from unsustainable sources.

“It is important that we always have access to these areas to ensure that they are fished carefully and lightly.”

He thought it would be possible to introduce a rule prohibiting chumming for cinematic purposes but allowing commercial fishing.

He stands in a shark cage pulled from the water
Marc Payne hopes to broadcast the underwater vision live from Salisbury Island in the future.(Provided: 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 appealing to high-profile filmmakers, who wanted to capture the sharks in an authentic way – 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 would be dropped underwater to be broadcast live to audiences around the world.

“Then your schools, your universities, your authorities and the general public will be able to log in and see this place without anyone needing to be there,” he said.

“I think it’s a step forward to deal with environments like Salisbury in the future.”

He said the value of the location should not be determined solely in monetary terms, but in environmental and educational terms.

Comments are closed.