ANIMAL welfare warriors have been threatened with $22,000 fines if they vandalise hi-tech "dolphin-safe'' shark nets which were yesterday installed to protect swimmers along northern NSW beaches.
Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair warned that anyone tampering with the new nets would "break the law and put lives at risk".
"Keeping the community safe is our number one priority,'' he told The Daily Telegraph.
"We don't want any lives put at risk by acts of vandalism. Anyone considering net tampering should think twice, it's a serious offence and carries a maximum penalty of $22,000.''
New nets were installed yesterday along five beaches in the Ballina shire, following a spate of shark attacks in the past two years.
A great white shark killed Ballina surfer Tadashi Nakahara at Shelly Beach in 2015, and several other surfers and swimmers were mauled that summer.
But conservation groups are upset that trial nets installed last year drowned dozens of marine animals including four dolphins and five turtles.
Mr Blair said the new nets had been redesigned to "minimise by-catch".
"We understand people's concerns around marine life and during this second trial we are doing all we can to minimise by-catch,'' he said.
The new nets have a larger mesh size and will sit closer to the surface, to prevent manta rays getting tangled on the ocean floor. "Pingers'' will emit a signal to alert dolphins to the nets.
The nets were installed yesterday at Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head, at Evans Head, and at Ballina Lighthouse, Sharpes and Shelly beaches.
Ballina Mayor David Wright said many people had been too scared to swim at the beaches until the nets were installed.
"Our shire had 9 per cent of the world's (shark) attacks and incidents of people getting knocked off boards,'' he said yesterday.
"In 2015 I drove around the beaches every day and if I saw five people in the water I'd have been surprised.
"Last summer we had thousands of people in the water so the nets make a difference. But the nets did take a lot of by-catch and hopefully the new design will not do that so much.''
Ballina Environment Society spokeswoman Fiona Folan said the nets were just a "feel-good solution'' for surfers and swimmers and drones were a better option.
"There were as many dolphins killed as target sharks,'' she said.
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