Environmental Law Australia

Shark drumline case

This case stopped the Queensland Government using baited drumlines to deliberately kill sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Queensland Government had operated a Shark Control Program (SCP) to kill sharks along the Queensland coast since the 1960s but, in 2009, was forced to reapply for approval under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Cth).

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the Queensland Government’s application to renew the permit for the SCP but a conservation group, the Humane Society International (Australia), applied for review of this decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

In 2019 the AAT found (at [94]):

The lethal component of the SCP does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions. The scientific evidence before us is overwhelming in this regard. Most compelling is the evidence of Associate Professor McPhee who gave evidence that he would never recommend a lethal program, and could never imagine advocating for a lethal shark program anywhere. He agreed that it was “highly plausible” that if the SCP became non-lethal tomorrow, we would see “no discernible change in unprovoked shark bites, in particular fatalities.”

On the basis of this finding in particular, the AAT limited the SCP to non-lethal take of sharks (with exceptions for euthanasia of injured sharks caught on drumlines that could not be released).

The Queensland Government appealed against the AAT’s decision on a number of alleged errors of law. In late 2019, the Full Court rejected all of these grounds and dismissed the appeal.


Despite the success of this case in 2019 on paper, research by HSI reported in March 2021 found that almost 80% of sharks caught on (the non-lethal) drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef marine park in 2020 died despite efforts to eliminate deaths under the shark control program.

Of the 178 sharks hooked on drum lines off the marine park’s popular beaches between February and December in 2020, 137 died, the HSI analysis showed.