The paper found despite a rapid increase in people living near the coast – and an estimated faster rise in beach visits – the chances of a shark bite remained minimal even at beaches without nets.
“There’s really no solid evidence the shark nets are effective,” said Leah Gibbs from the University of Wollongong’s School of Geography and Sustainable Communities and lead author of the report.
Even the beaches with mesh recorded at least 24 shark bites and one fatality – at Merewether Beach at Newcastle in 1951. Most nets are not actually enclosures, allowing sharks and other animals to swim over or around them.
“It’s really something about people’s sense of safety rather than actual safety,” Dr Gibbs said.
The number of deaths nationally averages about 1 per year. In NSW, there have been 66 fatalities from 204 shark bites over the past 150 years.
“We fear the very dramatic thing,” Dr Gibbs said, adding that drowning deaths in coastal waters, which stir less attention, were about 100 times more likely than from shark bites.
Of 395 marine animals caught in nets in 2018-19, 372 – or about 94 per cent – were so-called bycatch. Some of the animals caught were endangered, such as grey nurse sharks.