A high-seas stoush has erupted between Sea Shepherd campaigners and NSW Fisheries over shark-attracting baited drum lines.
The non-profit conservation group released a statement saying they had been accused of de-baiting the newly installed smart drum lines on Wednesday morning.
The group's National Shark Campaign Coordinator Natalie Banks said marine scientist Jann Gilbert, shark bite survivor Kylie Maguire and teacher and Jonathan Clark had been observing drum lines.
“To falsely accuse our crew of de-baiting the smart drum line hooks is not only an intimidation technique, but is almost satirical when you consider that the crew on board our [inflatable boat] today consisted of a respected marine scientist, a shark bite survivor and a school teacher,” Banks said.
A NSW Police spokesman confirmed to The Huffington Post Australia they'd been told drum lines had been de-baited but said no allegations were made.
"Police from Richmond Local Area Command were contacted by Ballina Fisheries in relation to a suspicious vessel in the vicinity of their eco-drum lines on Lighthouse, Shelley and Angel Beaches in Ballina," the spokesman said.
"Police attended and were later informed by Fisheries that all their drum lines had been de-baited, but not damaged.
"A short time later police spoke to a male and two females who were with a rigid inflatable boat at a boat ramp.
"Police questioned the persons about the incident. They were compliant with police and were allowed to leave.
"No further police action is expected."
The Department of Primary Industries deployed the smart buoys this month as part of a trial for its NSW Shark Management Strategy to curb an increase in shark attacks on the north coast.
Sam Morgan, 20, sustained serious wounds after he was bitten by a shark while surfing off Lighthouse Beach, Ballina in the evening of November 10.
In July, bodyboarder Matt Lee, 32 was killed in an attack at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina.
In February, Tadashi Nakahara, 41, died after an attack at Shelly Beach, Ballina.
Between February and August there were 11 shark attacks along a 20-kilometre stretch of northern NSW.
Nationally, since 2014, according to the Australian Shark Attack File, seven people have been killed in shark attacks and 36 have been injured.
Smart drumlines differ greatly from traditional drumlines as they are not designed to kill sharks. Rather, once a shark is caught, an alert is sent to a response team to tag and relocate the shark far from local beaches.
NSW Department of Primary Industries has been contacted for comment.