How 'shark issue' is affecting North Coast businesses
BEACH closures, shark encounters and mitigation strategies have not been a boost for business in the Northern Rivers but the severity of impacts has been unclear.
The Northern Star spoke to a number of business representatives from Ballina, Evans Head and Lennox Head to find out their concerns.
Owner of LJ Hooker Evans Head Brian O'Farrell said holiday bookings "were "still there" but there was "concern" about an impact on bookings over Christmas.
"There's gotta be another method but in the meantime we may have to consider nets" he said.
Owner-Manager of Evans Head Pacific Motel Liane Battersby said she was "definitely concerned" that negative publicity related to shark encounters would "have an impact over Christmas".
"Bring on the shark nets" she said.
"I hope common sense prevails and people find some common ground in relation to environmental and safety issues" said Craig Dale, General Manager of Camp Koionia, an accommodation facility in Evans Head.
"I am concerned that if something doesn't happen it is starting to impact the schools and other community groups," he said.
"They're not picking as many water activities. Beach-swim activity has dropped. People come here because of the beach. We're definitely concerned."
"The silent majority have had enough" said David Loosemore, owner of The Dunes holiday accommodation at Shelly Beach in Ballina.
He said bookings were half-full in September and he was in the "same situation as last year", when the north coast was also impacted by shark encounters.
"School groups and surf camps stopped coming two years ago," he said.
"Nothing's been done... the shark attacks are in the media and that has a negative impact on business."
Mr Loosemore said he was "really starting to see effects" of local shark encounters on business and described his view: "there's no one on the beach".
"Caravan parks... will eventually feel the impact too" he said, noting that caravan parks had possibly sustained themselves so far thanks to cancellation fees.
"I'm trying to stay right out of that, it's too political" said Karen Sinclair, owner operator of the Lighthouse Beach Cafe in Ballina.
"Our figures are pretty much the same as last year, we're all good, it's been fine.
"I might get a little concerned about the kiosk downstairs when the beaches are closed."
Wayne Webster, owner of popular north coast surf board business Webster Surfboards, said there was "no point trying to promote Ballina until the emotional impact" of recent shark encounters was over.
"It's way past that," he said.
"Everyone seems to have a view on [shark mitigation strategies] but unless we get on the front foot it's a waste of time and money" he said.
Owner of Beef & Beach restaurant at Lennox Head, Troy Lister, said shark encounters and beach closures in the region had "changed [his] customer base".
"I've been here five years, seven days a week and there's been a massive, massive change," he said.
"Two years ago we'd see 50 or 60 umbrellas on the beach Saturday or Sunday.
"Forty or 50 kids used to be down there after school with their Webster boards.
"All the parents would be down there.
"That doesn't happen any more, that beach is empty a lot."
Mr Lister said beach numbers had started to recover earlier in the year but had declined after more recent shark encounters.
"When they're on the beach they might go and buy some chips or a juice, when they're not on the beach they're not gonna come shop in town.
"They're finding other things to do but they can lead you of town," he said.
"People are a bit blase about the impact but after a year or two, people might start moving away.
"Immediately, nets should go in," he said.
"Shark spotting makes no difference... helicopters heighten fear... drones, you gotta have pilots, they're expensive.
"All these strategies cost a lot of money, they're not successful at dealing with environmental conditions."
One north coast surf school operator, who did not wish to be named, said the school hadn't "had an overwhelming number of bookings" since the increased reports of shark encounters in the area over the past two years.
"I'm not really getting any surf work," he said.
"It's a hard one. In one sense I'd like to see something done about the shark problem.
"In another sense... to talk publicly about sharks can add to the fearmongering."
He said it was worth noting that "the likelihood of being attacked by a shark in a beginner surfing lesson" was extremely low since students stayed in shallow waters rarely visited by sharks.
Manager of North Coast Holiday Parks Debbie Smith said she was "only just starting to see a slight effect".
"We had a high school from Queensland who [last week] have stated that they won't be able to return until mitigation is improved.
"Kids come to surf and that risk assessment has heightened.
"We're staying on a pretty good average, we have very loyal customers committed to holidaying at Lennox Head come rain, hail or snow.
"They obviously voice concerns [but] it hasn't become a deterrent."
Ms Smith was also the head of the Lennox Head Chamber of Commerce and said the group had "no specific stance" on shark mitigation strategies.
"There is no way the chamber can stand up and say yes or no to shark nets," she said.
"We see our role as educating, to be a funnel of feedback.
"You don't specifically have to come here to surf," she said and suggested the hinterland, dining out, arts and crafts as other attractive features of the Northern Rivers.
Kellon Beard, Regional Manager of the Northern Rivers NSW Chamber of Commerce, said "any disruption" to beach activity in the area was concerning, particularly for the tourism industry but impacts so far hadn't been dramatic.
"The sooner we can take some positive action, whatever measures are necessary, the better" he said.
Australian Lifeguard Service Northern Coordinator Scott McCartney said it was too soon to tell whether or not numbers of beach visitors on the north coast had fallen.
"This time next year we'll know a bit more but from day to day we're still fairly packed, especially in Byron Bay" he said.
He said the beaches around Ballina were "a lot more seasonable" and that "down at Lennox, it's probably affected them".