Councillors support removal of shark nets

Shark nets are likely to be removed from Dunedin's beaches, after city councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the long-running programme.

The vote came on the first day of Dunedin City Council annual plan deliberations yesterday and after submissions calling for an end to the nets at last week's public hearings.

Councillors yesterday voted 9-3 in favour of removing them, and saving the $38,000 annual cost of placing the sets of 100m-long nets off St Kilda, St Clair and Brighton beaches each summer.

That came after arguments in favour of ending the programme by Crs Lee Vandervis and Richard Thomson, among others, and despite opposition from Crs Paul Hudson, Bill Acklin and Syd Brown, who voted against the move.

Cr Brown conceded he might be too close to the issue, as his cousin and a school classmate were killed by sharks during a period that saw five people attacked - three of them fatally - off the Dunedin coast in the 1960s and '70s.

However, he was not swayed by evidence presented by submitters last week about the environmental impact the nets were having on other marine wildlife, saying councillors were elected to protect the city's residents first.

None of the evidence presented to councillors changed the fact no attacks had occurred since use of the nets began, and removing them was taking a risk he was not prepared to support.

Cr Acklin said surf life-saving clubs had not submitted to this year's annual plan, and may have presumed the money for the nets - which was already included in the draft plan - was to remain.

He suggested those councillors who voted against removing the money - including himself - would not be held responsible if another shark attack occurred after the nets were removed.

Cr Hudson said the surf lifesaving clubs should be consulted before the nets were removed, as many were affected by the decision but might not have followed the annual plan process.

However, other councillors argued the nets were past their use-by date and Cr Vandervis recommended their use cease.

His move won support from a majority of councillors, including Cr Thomson, who said the nets protected a small area of the beaches, did not stop sharks coming into the beaches and were ineffective at catching dangerous shark species.

It appeared water users and even one of Dunedin's five shark attack victims, Levin businessman Barry Watkins, also wanted the nets removed, he said.

"For all those reasons, I think they should go. They just have a placebo effect and shouldn't be giving people a false sense of security."

His arguments won support from other speakers, including deputy mayor Chris Staynes and Crs Jinty MacTavish, Teresa Stevenson and John Bezett.

Cr Bezett said he might have a different view if councillors were considering expanding the nets to completely shield the beaches, "but we're not".

What was in place was totally ineffective, and "I think the time has well passed that we should be supporting them", he said.

Councillors voted to end the programme, with the public, clubs and other groups to be advised about the change.

The decision to remove funding for the nets would be confirmed when the 2011-12 annual plan was adopted.


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