STANDING knee deep in water and surrounded by hundreds of sea mullet, Allan Saunders, 51, initially thought the force that hit his lower legs was an electric shock.
Then, after a few seconds, his worst fears were realised.
In one sudden bite, a three-metre grey nurse shark had wrapped its jaws around both his legs from the knee down, burying a tooth into a bone in his right leg.
Fearing his right calf muscle had been ripped from the bone, Mr Saunders jumped out of the way of another bite and made his way to shore.
‘‘It didn’t feel like a bite,’’ Mr Saunders told the Newcastle Herald on Monday from his bed at John Hunter Hospital.
‘‘It felt like I got hit by 240volts, an electric charge.
‘‘Then after a second I thought ‘I know what this is’.
‘‘I felt something on my other leg too and I thought he was taking a second bite but he wasn’t, he had both my legs in the one bite.’’
Mr Saunders said he was helping another crew of commercial fishermen, who had snared about 17 tonne of mullet in their nets off Crowdy Head about 3.30pm on Sunday, when they noticed three grey nurse sharks stuck in the nets.
‘‘A nice patch of fish was coming along and the boys had just shot them in, and as we were getting the net closer and closer to the shore we noticed a couple of grey nurses stuck in there,’’ Mr Saunders said.
‘‘When that happens you’ve got to stop operation and get them out, because if they die then each member of the crew gets fined $1000.
‘‘I dragged one of them to deep water so [he or she] could swim off. And once that one was out of the road and everything was clear, I went back to the back of the net where another mate was to give him a hand so the rest of the fish could get through.
‘‘And a shark just came from nowhere and latched on.
‘‘Once the adrenalin had worn off I was in excruciating pain.’’
He said he was sure there were four sharks in the area at the time of the attack – three caught in the nets and a fourth which appeared suddenly and bit him.
Mr Saunders, who has 35 years’ experience in the fishing industry and comes from a family of anglers, said he had always felt comfortable around grey nurses, which are known for being docile and offering no threat to humans.
‘‘You occasionally get sharks stuck in the nets – usually if you do a shot just on dark you might get one or two in the early hours,’’ he said.
‘‘Normally you drag them out, let them go and they take off. But this was the middle of the day and there were a number of them and they were acting pretty aggressive – it was really unusual.
‘‘Crowdy Head Bay has always been a safe beach, we’ve never had any dramas up there. But over the past few years we’ve seen a real increase in the number of sharks, even great whites, around the area.
‘‘We were only talking about it last year. With the amount of sharks we’ve spotted, [an attack] was on the cards.’’
Mr Saunders underwent surgery to remove a piece of the broken shark tooth from his leg on Sunday.
‘‘Any sceptics out there that say it wasn’t a grey nurse shark, we’ve got the tooth to prove it,’’ he said.