YOUR STORY: Fisherman says overfishing behind shark attacks

I AM 62 years old and have been a recreational fisherman, both socially and competitively, for most of this time.

My experiences lead me to what must be a very plausible explanation for the great increase in shark attacks upon humans in recent times.

It is obvious that increasing numbers of people are undertaking activities in the environment sharks consider home; but this, I believe, is not the sole reason.

In my earlier days, myself and friends experienced numerous occasions where sharks would devour fish caught by line as well as spearfished without ever turning on us humans in the water nearby.

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When humans were attacked, the cause was often attributed to the sharks being rogue, aged or ill and looking for an easy feed.

What proportion of recent attacks have been attributed to the same cause?

It is my firm belief that it is we humans that are the cause for these attacks!

In my youth it was easy to get a feed of fish. This is no longer the case.

As time goes by the legal number of fish allowed to be caught is decreasing and their legal size is increasing.

I ask myself is this being caused by the ever increasing numbers of recreational fishermen.

I realise that fishing regulations are put into place to try to ensure a sustainable fishery for these fishers.

Recreational fishers do so for the enjoyment of their involvement and have alternatives when they are unable to catch fish; they are not dependant on catching and eating fish.

I then ask myself if this is also the case with commercial fishing.

Their livelihood depends on catching fish and if they are unable to, they must sell out and leave the industry or experience a reduced standard of living.

In my youth it was common to see commercial fishermen beach-netting a variety of fish species (including mullet, bream, tailor, mulloway, luderick and Australian salmon) over the course of the year.

Most of these fish were being caught in their spawning season.

Often if the fish caught could not be marketed profitably or were undersize (such as male mullet, bream, whiting), the catch would be dumped in the dunes at the back of the beach.

Over time there have been major changes to the nature of product marketed at seafood outlets.

We have seen fewer and fewer species available; increased numbers of previously considered less palatable species (such as tailor and leatherjackets); and an increasing proportion of farmed or imported fish.

In recent times the NSW Fisheries Department has attempted to regulate the State's commercial fishers to ensure that the fishery remains sustainable and the industry viable.

To date all attempts have been rejected by industry members and their affiliated organisations.

Could it possibly be that the reason for the increase in shark attacks on humans is that we continue to reduce their normal supply of food and so increasing the likelihood that they will seek alternative sources, namely us?

It is interesting to note that the recent increase in shark attacks coincides with a dramatic decline in the numbers of Australian salmon caught off local beaches. Furthermore, in the past few years we have seen the introduction of an Australian commercial salmon fishery in the coastal waters north of Sydney!

What are your experiences and beliefs? I urge that if you hold views similar to those above, contact your local and State government representatives.

I fear that our futures are at stake in more ways than one.