On 19 December 2014, the NSW Government announced that the amnesty on recreational fishing in NSW Marine Park sanctuary zones would be lifted in 20 of the 30 sites it had opened up to shore-based recreational line fishing. The remaining 10 sites would lose their sanctuary zone status, including four out of seven sites in the Batemans Marine Park. While this rezoning process is being finalised, the amnesty will continue at these sites.
This partial lifting of the amnesty for recreational fishing in marine parks sanctuary zones is evidence of the government’s determination to whittle away at our precious marine environment while showing an abject unwillingness to listen to the science or the community on this issue. Jervis Bay Marine Park, for example, will have all its sanctuary zones rightly restored, meaning there was absolutely no reason to allow fishing there, and to undermine the marine ecology, in the first place. For my latest media release click here.
Save our Marine Parks Campaign
There is overwhelming evidence that Marine Parks, particularly sanctuary zones, boost and protect ecological biodiversity, support the tourism economy and help make the fishing industry sustainable. A recent survey has found that 93 per cent of people in NSW support marine sanctuaries. Among recreational fishers, the figure is 91 percent with 64 per cent opposed to marine sanctuaries being open for fishing.
So why is the Baird Government undermining them?
Take Action! Email your MP here!
The NSW Marine Reserve system began protecting marine life in 1991 with the declaration of the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve (now Park), and since then, five more marine parks have been created after extensive scientific research and community consultation. As a key step to effective marine conservation, the parks designated 6.7% of the coast line as sanctuary zones, which by law are free of environmentally damaging activities such as fishing. These parks were established over high conservation value areas, such as the endangered Nurse Shark nurseries in the Solitary
Islands Marine Park.
In March 2013, the NSW government temporarily lifted restrictions for recreational fishers allowing them to fish in these precious sanctuaries zones while a threat and risk assessment was undertaken. This is of significant concern as the allowance for recreational fishing will further diminish ecosystem quality. This amnesty allows shore–based recreational line fishing from ocean beaches and headlands in the sanctuary zones of mainland NSW Marine Parks. Recreational fishing can account for up to 90% of the catch of some species, meaning that sanctuary zones need to be protected from both recreational and commercial fishing. Sanctuary zones allow the community to enjoy their environment in a sustainable way, including swimming, diving, snorkelling and other leisure activities that don’t disrupt or harm the natural environment. Fishers are still free to fish in the remainder of the Marine Park.
A Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel was appointed to assess the threats and risks of this activity to the Marine Park. The assessment was completed in November 2013 and the “advice is currently under consideration” according to the DPI website. The Government is expected to make a decision soon as to whether to continue to allow recreational fishing in marine sanctuaries. The Government also has the power to alter the size and location of marine parks so regardless of the amnesty decision we must keep up the pressure on the government to protect marine parks.
With shooting in National Parks, weakening of native vegetation regulations and these constant attacks on the marine environment, it is clear that this is a government driven by a deep anti-environment ideology.
The University of Sydney’s school of biology released a statement on marine park zoning in NSW, urging the government to reinstate the ‘no-take areas’ of sanctuaries. It submitted a petition to urge the government to create research programs targeting scientific knowledge gaps. The habitats in sanctuary zones where restrictions have been temporarily lifted are vital habitats for many fish communities. They are also the most heavily exploited due to increased access of fishers. Recent data indicates that recreational fishers take at least a quarter of the catch in 11 of the state’s top 20 harvested species, including those commonly found in beach and headland habitats.
Just two years after the sanctuary zones were expanded on the Great Barrier Reef in 2004, scientists found that Coral Trout, for example, had increased by 60% in the protected areas.
There has been inadequate consideration of the public interest. In every poll conducted in NSW over the past 5 years on the issue of marine protection, support for marine sanctuaries among the general public and fishers alike has averaged 70-90%.
Around 80% of marine species in NSW are unique to Australia and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
An Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies report stresses the importance of sanctuary zones for resilience and capacity building. “We found little difference between fishes living in most MPAs and those in nearby fished areas, indicating that many MPAs are not achieving desired conservation outcomes. However, some MPAs had massive numbers of large fishes and extremely high conservation value. These effective MPAs typically were no-take, well-enforced, more than 10 years old, relatively large in area, and isolated from fished areas by deep water or sand. MPAs with these characteristics had on average eight times more large fishes, nine times more groupers, and 14 times more sharks than fished areas.”
Sanctuary zones are necessary due to the uncertainty of climate change impacts on marine life and our oceans. Through sectioning off areas in marine parks where fishing is not permitted, ecosystems will be able to thrive and build resilience to possible changes in the sea which are beyond our research capabilities at this time. Due to these knowledge gaps, precaution should be exercises to minimise species endangerment or extinction.
Marine parks and healthy sanctuary zones also have long term and increasing benefits to regional communities. A 2013 Centre for Policy Development report found that, for example, the establishment of the Solitary Islands Marine Park saw a 20% increase in local business turnover in the first five years, mainly due to tourism and the Jervis Bay Marine Park has brought an estimated $2.4 million into the region through marine tourism.
What Can I do?
It is vital that the Government hears that communities want strong marine environmental protections and that marine parks and designated marine sanctuary zones have significant economic benefits for regional areas dependent on tourism, in particular, marine activities such as diving, snorkelling and other non-destructive water sports.