Fisheries Minister pledges increased shark tagging, Twilight Beach receiver following tragedy

Call for change: Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley visited Esperance to thank first responders and address calls for increased shark protection. Photo: Sarah Makse.
Call for change: Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley visited Esperance to thank first responders and address calls for increased shark protection. Photo: Sarah Makse.

The state government has promised to install an additional shark detector, warning systems for beach-goers and intensive shark tagging in the Esperance area.

Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley made the announcement in Esperance on January 8, following a shark attack that took the life of diver Gary Johnson.

Mr Tinley said he wanted to support the community and thank rescue crews who had worked tirelessly to search for Mr Johnson and a 21-year-old man swept off rocks at Twilight beach on January 2.

"I was here today to meet with the first responders and the workers who go out and put themselves in harms way for the safety of our community," he said.

Mr Tinley said he was grateful to meet Mr Johnson's wife, Karen Milligan, to better understand her perspective on sharks in the area.

"Her views are very public about the fact that she doesn't support a cull, but she does support the better collection of data and she does support the idea of marine parks," he said.

Mr Tinley committed to installing a shark detection transponder on Twilight Beach to detect tagged sharks around the popular tourist spot.

Two similar receivers were installed at Kelp Beds and West beach in 2017 following the fatal shark attack of teenager Laeticia Brouwer.

Surf Life Savers patrol Twilight Beach, one of Esperance's most popular tourist destinations. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Surf Life Savers patrol Twilight Beach, one of Esperance's most popular tourist destinations. Photo: Sarah Makse.

"I have instructed the department that we are to attend to that at best possible speed, to ensure that we are putting transponders on Twilight Beach so the public can have better information," he said.

"We are also putting audible and visual warnings for people when one of those tagged sharks goes past the transponder."

He said there were an estimated 1450 white sharks in the waters between WA and the Bass Strait, with 105 tagged and tracked in WA.

"We need to know more about them in a localised way and I've asked to undertake an intensive period of tagging here in the Esperance area to make sure we have a better picture of what's going on," he said.

"We don't know enough and what you can't measure, you can't manage."

Mr Tinley said "nothing is off the cards" in relation to the installation of SMART drum-lines in Esperance, and did not rule out the use of drones to monitor local shark activity.

"You can be rest-assured we are thinking through any and all options, particularly new technology," he said.

Member for Roe Peter Rundle said he welcomed the installation of a receiver at Twilight Beach, but called for additional Fisheries staff to tag sharks in Esperance.

He stressed the importance of community consultation, and use of new technology to monitor sharks in Esperance.

"I think it's important that the Esperance community is consulted in relation to potential use of SMART drum-lines," he said.

"I think there should also be local drone and aerial patrols at some of our most popular beaches around the Esperance area, certainly over the holiday period."

The Esperance Ocean Safety and Support Group also met with Mr Tinley to share their concerns about increased shark activity in the Esperance bay.

Group chairman Mitchell Capelli said they were pleased with his pledge to increase measures to detect sharks, but it "was only the tip of the iceberg".

"What we have seen in recent years is significantly increased shark behaviour and that has resulted in tragedy," he said.

"While everyone who enters the water knows the risks, at the moment the risks are completely outweighing the reward.

Mr Capelli said the group wanted to see more action to control shark activity around the bay.

"This is going to repeat itself over and over again until we act on it," he said.

"We don't want a cull, we want to target sharks that are hanging around, interacting with swimmers, surfers and divers and are sighted at the same locations regularly, problem sharks."