Under current Federal Government proposals, Australia will shortly have the world’s largest network of marine parks and sanctuaries. Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, announced the government’s intention to establish the Commonwealth marine reserves, many of which will be no-fishing zones, on June 14.
The proposed new network will increase the number of national marine reserves from 27 to 60, expanding the national network to cover more than a third of Commonwealth waters. It will cover 3.1 million square kilometres, making it by far the largest network of marine protected areas in the world.
But news of the development has not gone down well with marine industry and fishing groups, with one identity saying “the berley has really hit the prop on this one”.
Many question the motivation behind the announcement, the Boating Industry Alliance of Australia labeling the move a cynical and desperate attempt to placate the environmental movement, in particular the Greens, on whom the Government relies for its current control of Federal Parliament (see Guest Editorial, Marine reserves: we have to say “no” p15).
The BIAA has called on the Government to explain why the establishment of the new marine reserves is so crucial to the marine environment and has urged Minister Burke to “demonstrate a sincere commitment to consulting with the Australian population” during the final consultation phase before the new parks are proclaimed.
While the final 60-day consultation period has already begun and will close on September 10, Club Marine understands Minister Burke is determined to adhere strictly to the plans and zone boundaries that have already been released.
In an interview conducted the day after the final consultation period started, Minister Burke maintained that the boundaries of the new reserves had been drawn up after extensive national consultation with all affected stakeholders.
In response to claims by the BIAA and others that concerns of recreational fishing groups were not taken into account, Minister Burke said these claims were “simply a lie”.
“Not only did we have all the formal submissions processes, but I then had my department go out and have meetings throughout the country,” he told Club Marine.
“And then, in May, I went out and did it myself and went to each of the major cities affected and spent a day in each meeting with the recreational sector, the commercial sector, tourism sector and environmental groups.
“To go through something like that and then be told the consultation didn’t happen … you use these words rarely, but it’s simply a lie.”
Burke did acknowledge that the overwhelming response from recreational fishing groups was not supportive of the proposal as outlined by his department.
“The starting point from the recreational fishers generally is that they prefer a fisheries management approach to a marine parks approach,” he said.
“That was always said up front, it was always understood that the principle behind this was effectively about having some areas that are completely preserved for nature. It was a principle they (recreational fishing groups) weren’t supportive of.”
One of the main criticisms by many in the marine industry and fishing groups has been a lack of clear scientific data to support such a massive expansion of Australia’s existing marine parks network.
While rejecting these claims, Minister Burke would not cite any species-specific studies supporting individual marine park boundaries, instead stating that the parks would be based on the broad science of “bioregional planning”.
“Bioregional planning effectively isolates bio regions, different forms of marine life and geological features on the sea floor and goes to different forms of protection,” he said.
He said that the response from some scientists had actually been that he had not gone far enough, and that there should be more exclusion zones.
But the BIAA and others affected by the announcement are adamant that there is no scientific data or studies which justify the establishment of such a vast network.
“There is no scientific evidence to support the marine reserve system as planned,” said BIAA General Manager Nik Parker. “The plans announced seek only to placate the environmental movement, led by international lobby groups intent on controlling Australians’ everyday lives.”
Parker was referring to an organized ‘template’ email campaign by the US-based Pew Environment Group to flood the consultation process with hundreds of thousands of calls to lock Australian anglers out of vast areas of our local fisheries.
“The announcement contains no plans on how to manage great swathes of ocean soon to be declared off-limits to Australians and no explanation of how any measures of benefit of this action will be determined,” he said.
The Coalition’s Fisheries Spokesman, Senator Richard Colbeck, was also scathing in his response.
“Tony Burke and Labor continue to be led by the Greens in this process, ignoring calls for any future marine parks to be based on peer-reviewed science and turning stakeholder consultations into a farce,” Senator Colbeck said.
“Today marks the start of the last chance for fishing stakeholders and coastal communities to speak up and put a stop to the unnecessary lock-up of more than one-third of our Commonwealth waters.
“Australia’s fisheries are among the best managed in the world, but it seems Minister Burke is committed to doing the Greens bidding and will push ahead with locking Australians out of Australia, and denying families and fishing businesses access to our abundant fish stocks.
“The annual assessment of our fish stocks shows they are already sustainable, healthy and productive and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority actively monitors and enforces fishery management controls. All of this is based on sound science.
“In contrast, the Government’s proposed network of marine parks lacks any scientific foundation and is based on the demands of the Greens and environment groups.
“The Coalition is urging commercial and recreational fishing sectors and coastal communities to make the most of this consultation period and tell the Government that they do not want great swathes of Australia’s productive and sustainably managed waters locked up,” Senator Colbeck said.
Minister Burke has said only submissions focusing on new issues not previously raised would be considered during the final consultation period.
“It’s too late for people to say ‘I want this lined shifted’ or ‘I want this zone painted a different colour’,” he said.
In the meantime, fishing and environmental groups have joined forces to express outrage that at the same time as the massive new no-fishing zones have been announced, the Federal Government is set to grant a commercial fishing licence to one of the world’s largest fishing trawlers, the Dutch-based super trawler FV Margiris, to harvest 18,000 tonnes of redbait and slimy mackerel in Commonwealth waters.
The 142m trawler is to be based in Tasmania and the announcement of its imminent arrival has sparked cries of hypocrisy from both environmental and fishing groups.
At a protest rally in Devonport, spokesman for recreational fishers, Mark Nikolai, said the ship could decimate local fish stocks.
“They can potentially take out a significant amount of the local feed stock from the marine environment,” he said.
Jon Bryan from the Tasmanian Conservation Trust echoed his comments, saying public concern is growing.
“I think people are just starting to realize what a threat this ship poses to our marine environment and fish stocks,” he said.
Anyone wishing to make a submission on the national marine parks network can do so via the Director of National Parks at: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/reserves/comments.html.
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