ScreenWest

Aerial shark patrols bite into council budget

BALLINA Shire Council is set to formalise its shark mitigation strategy this week, with funding of aerial patrols a key issue on the agenda.

Councillors will meet on Thursday to discuss the recent incidents.

A report on the matter states the "extent of the interest in these (shark) incidents has resulted in reports of economic impacts to the shire".

At the time the report was written, the "standard operating procedure" (SOP) to manage the response to reported shark sightings had been used 22 times.

"On most of these occasions, council resources have been required to assist with temporary beach closures," the report states.

"From the perspective of the NSW Police and Surf Rescue, the SOP is considered to be very successful and has saved lives."

However, its success has only been possible with Air T&G helicopters providing aerial patrols of beaches.

They have incorporated surveillance into their other flying activities.

But on Sundays, Air T&G has generally provided a dedicated service to the council.

For August, this is expected to cost the council $2300.

At the moment this cost is being funded through the council's existing Open Spaces and Reserves budget.

On Thursday, councillors will debate whether the council should continue to fund these patrols into the future.

"While the protection of surfers is an important community issue and thereby has the strong interest of council, the waters are not within council's jurisdiction and therefore staff is mindful of whether or not the expenditure of council funds on this activity is preferred," the staff report states.

"To date our requests to the NSW Government to fund the surveillance (and increase the level of surveillance) have been unsuccessful, even on a temporary basis."

Although council staff have welcomed the Department of Primary Industries' announcement to investigate the shark activity in the region, they said it was still "uncertain as to what will be delivered".

"We are hopeful, and it is likely, the work will include attempts to identify and tag sharks for the purposes of understanding whether or not the current sightings are the same animals frequenting the area or a wider population entering local waters," the report states.


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