Diver: widen net on rebates

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian

A Geraldton resident and former dive professional says the State Government’s $200 shark deterrent device rebate is of little use to divers and surfers because it covers only one model.

In late November, the State Government announced $200,000 of additional funding for a further 1000 devices in its second round of rebates after a trial subsidy was launched in May.

But the rebate covers only one particular model: the Shark Shield FREEDOM7.

Geraldton diver Scott Trenwith said the Shark Shield — which features a 2.2m trailing antenna or “whip” — didn’t suit his diving requirements.

“The problem with the Shark Shield is that the whip zaps you, and it is quite painful,” he said.

“I think the rebate is a good thing but they need to open it up to other models. There’s heaps of other units out there.”

Mr Trenwith said frustration had led him to switch to a similarly priced alternative that was newer, smaller and had no antenna. The device retails for about $750.

“The Shark Shield used to annoy me so I’d take it off, whereas I don’t take off the newer device; I probably wear it more often,” he said.

Mr Trenwith claimed most of his dive mates found the Shark Shield to be bulky, and surfer friends found it impractical.

Mr Trenwith said he had seen positive results while using his current device locally.

“I’ve had a couple of bull sharks come in while I’m spearfishing, and they get within about six feet and tend to turn tail, whereas I’ve had them come right up to me without the repellent on,” he said.

Shark Shield managing director Lindsay Lions acknowledged the FREEDOM7 could shock users, but defended the product.

“The reason it works so effectively — and it’s been proven to be extremely effective — is it does create a very powerful electric field around the user,” he said.

“Most people touch it on purpose because it gives them a feeling of confidence and safety that it’s actually working.

We do have a specific product designed for surfing called a Freedom Plus Surf, and that is in the process of having the final report written to go onto the rebate program.”

Shadow fisheries minister and member for Geraldton Ian Blayney criticised Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly over the rebate, saying it did nothing to protect the average beach-goer. “The Government’s major policy is to provide a rebate to 2000 people who surf or scuba dive,” he said. “What measures are available to those people who cannot afford, can’t use or don’t want a personal shark deterrent.”

Mr Kelly defended the Government’s decision to prioritise surfers and scuba divers, saying they were most at risk of shark attack.

“Since 2000 there have been 15 fatal shark attacks off WA’s coast, and of those, 13 were either surfing or diving when they were attacked,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Kelly said other devices were being independently tested, including some specifically targeted at surfers.

“If these devices are independently verified and proven to be effective in deterring white sharks, then they will also be included in the subsidy program,” she said.

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