Only 11 per cent of the marine animals caught in shark nets off the Hunter's coast during the 2020/2021 season were target species considered a threat to humans.
The remaining animals included dolphins, sea turtles, rays and non-aggressive shark species.
The annual performance report for the State Government's Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) program shows 69 marine animals were caught in nets between Stockton and Catherine Hill Bay.
Fifty or 72 per cent of the animals caught were killed. Several were protected or endangered species.
The meshing program currently consists of 51 shark nets off beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong that are deployed between September 1 and April 30. It aims to protect swimmers from Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks.
The program operates in much the same way as it did when it was introduced 80 years ago.
Conservation groups, Humane Society International Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society are lobbying for the program to end and be replaced with high-tech solutions designed to improve safety and reduce environmental impacts.
Humane Society International Australia marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck said it was devastating that so many marine animals were killed in order to provide a false sense of security.
"The indiscriminate deaths that occur as a result of the outdated Shark Meshing Program in NSW must end. The technology is nearly 100 years old, we would never accept safety technology that old in any other facet of our lives, why should ocean safety be any different? It is in everyone's best interest that the nets are done away with," he said.
Shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida agreed.
"The local communities want their beach safety standards modernised and the terrible cost to wildlife brought to an end. Public sentiment and the science are in alignment - come September the NSW Government should keep the nets out and the drones up." Dr Guida said.
A NSW Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said the shark meshing program was actively managed to minimise the impact on marine animals while acting as a physical barrier to protect swimmers.
This included frequent inspections to minimise the impact on sea life.
"Since the introduction of the shark meshing program in 1937 there has only been one fatality at meshed beaches. On average, more than 5 million people visit meshed beaches every year," she said.
"Nets are currently part of the NSW Shark Program that also includes SMART drumlines, VR4G tagged shark listening stations, drones, research, education, and community engagement,"
The five year, $16million statewide program tested and trialled a range of new and traditional measures, including drones, helicopters, listening stations, SMART drumlines and shark nets.
Drones were employed at Birubi Beach at Port Stephens between December 2018 to April 2019. The technology detected nine sharks resulting in two beach evacuations.
Drones were also used at Redhead Beach during November 2018 and March 2019. One shark was sighted but the beach was not evacuated.
In addition to detecting sharks, drones can sound sirens to warn swimmers and surfers if a shark is in the area, and also help lifesavers to identify swimmers in distress.
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