BIG CATCH: Ballina local Joe Cunningham caught a 1.5m bull shark near the Wardell bridge on Sunday night, April, 5, 2016.
BIG CATCH: Ballina local Joe Cunningham caught a 1.5m bull shark near the Wardell bridge on Sunday night, April, 5, 2016. Contributed

Hooked bull shark one of many as baitfish swarm

FOR avid Ballina fisherman Joe Cunningham, the 1.5m bull shark on the end of his line was a stark reminder of the dangers that lurk behind schools of baitfish.

The aquatic apex predator was caught in the Richmond River near the Wardell bridge about 7.30pm Sunday.

Mr Cunningham, a Ballina landscaper who's been fishing for 25 years, said it was one of three he'd caught in the past 12 months - two in the last two days.

He said the swarms of baitfish around were a serious warning sign for swimmers and surfers, as they usually indicate the presence of large predators like sharks.

Mr Cunningham said this was a particular concern during school holidays when large numbers of tourists visit coastal towns like Ballina, some of whom may not know the signs and times to avoid possible shark encounters.

"I fish a lot; when I say a lot, I mean nearly every afternoon and at the moment, there is just that much white bait on the beach," he said.

"You can see a wave and it's just full of bait, and then the tailor following the white bait.

"And with all that bait around there's bound to be bigger fish."

Mr Cunningham said he would like to see more education programs in schools aimed at giving people a better understanding of the ocean and beaches, including rips, currents, tides and knowing when and where to swim.

He cited one example of seeing a surfer paddle out into baitfish-infested water where a shark had been caught the night before.

"There needs to be better education," he said. "If there's that much bait around, people shouldn't be getting in the water.

"If you're in those gutters with deeper water, it's scary to think what's in there."

Mr Cunningham said dolphins were also a good indicator of sharks.

"There were a heap of dolphins around when I caught that shark last night," he said.

"The dolphins are obviously chasing the bait around and the sharks are following them."

Although the advice applies to species like bull sharks and bronze whalers, Mr Cunningham conceded the motives and behaviour of great white sharks still remained a bit of a mystery to most.

In February last year, 41-year-old Ballina man Tadashi Nakahara was killed by a great white shark in clear water conditions, just before 10am, when he was attacked while surfing off Shelly Beach.