A SMALL group of protesters paddled out to a Lennox Head shark net in rough surf conditions on Saturday, to protest the nets installed at five Ballina shire beaches this week.
The controversial meshing program saw 36 target sharks trapped in the nets in the 2016/17 financial year and a further 43 non-target sharks, including grey nurse, hammer heads and angel sharks, also entangled.
The campaign against nets is led by prominent activist Dean Jeffreys, who dressed like a hammer head in 2016 to cast a net over then NSW premier, Mike Baird, during a protest.
Mr Jeffreys said on Saturday a freediver swam underneath a net, about 7m below the water's surface, and 2m off the sea bed.
"We had a bad time going out because there was a huge swell, I was on the kayak and got smashed a few times, one guy swam all the way underneath and a few of us swam around," Mr Jeffreys said.
"If people can swim and under the nets, sharks can too. These shark nets offer absolutely zero protection to beachgoers.
"We looked for any tangled animals but I think the (Department of Primary Industries) had been through an hour before to remove them."
The protest comes as the Humane Society International released a blog post slamming the NSW North Coast shark net trial.
Humane Society International head of campaigns, Nicole Beynon, said the nets pose a threat to the critically endangered grey nurse shark, but are not subject to an environmental impact assessment because Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has granted the NSW Government an exemption.
"This decision is egregious because he's using a loophole in the law to exempt the shark nets from an environmental impact assessment," Ms Beynon said. "We think he's abusing the law, he's making a mockery of it."
Beaches with shark nets include Seven Mile Beach (Lennox Head), Lighthouse, Sharpes and Shelly beaches (Ballina) and Evans Head.
Tampering with a net could lead to a $22,000 fine.