Cannibal shark frenzy: Monsters turning on each other
Fisherman Joel Merchant won't go swimming in the surf beyond the shallows because he knows how many sharks are out there.
"I see way too much. There's definitely no shortage of great whites, we see them all the time and we never saw them before," the 39-year-old Tweed Heads fisherman said.
For 20 years, Mr Merchant has been fishing off the same coast where two fatal great white shark attacks have occurred in four months - one at Kingscliff in June that killed 60-year-old Rob Pedretti and last week's fatal attack on Nick Slater, 46, at family-friendly Greenmount.
"There's a lot of sharks, they are everywhere. People think commercial fishing overfishes for them but a lot don't fish for sharks anymore due to the restrictions brought in over the past 10 years," he said.
Now when Mr Merchant puts down the odd shark line, he rarely lands the full catch. He has a collection of graphic photos of sharks consumed by bigger sharks.
"When I set for shark lines now, the majority are eaten by other sharks before I get them on board," he said.
"I could go on about it for hours, but 15-20 years there was too much pressure on the shark population, then they brought in restrictions and quotas in 2009 so in 10 years there's been minimal fishing.
"People don't fish for them anymore and the amount of sharks out there now is out of control."
Five years ago, after the 2015 spate of attacks in northern NSW, Mr Merchant signalled the warning on the growing numbers of sharks. Now, after a record six fatal attacks in nine months, he is again sounding the alarm.
"I've been on and off fishing for sharks for 20 years. I've only been approached by one researcher. They are not going to listen to a stupid old fisherman," he said.
"People say they are hungry due to overfishing but you never see a skinny one, they are all healthy and there is plenty of food for them, they have been left alone and bred up so well and thriving.
"The chance of interacting with a shark is more and more because there are so many of them."
A Facebook page called Sharks Ate My Catch is full of stories by fishermen.
Yamba-based commercial fisherman Adrian Cottee posted pictures of dozens of sharks stalking his trawler off Tweed Heads recently.
"We are working off Tweed Heads NSW at the moment and I see this every night," he posted.
"We actually had to leave the Tweed area two years ago because the sharks were eating the net and everything would fall out. There's certainly big numbers of sharks out there."
A soon-to-be-published study predicts more great white shark activity off the coast of Northern NSW and South East Queensland.
Professor Rob Harcourt, Professor from the Department of Marine Ecology at Macquarie University, said global warming was strengthening the east coast current, which was bringing more sharks close to shore.
"It is getting stronger and what it does is pull cold water up from the deep quite close to the shore. It is full of nutrients and a lot of fish and sharks come in to feed on those fish in those cold water upwellings - and whites will come in with that," Prof Harcourt said.
CSIRO estimates there are a total population of 5460 great white sharks off the east coast with a potential range between 2909 and 12,800.
Originally published as Cannibal shark frenzy: Monsters turning on each other