Last week the New South Wales Government announced its new approach to marine park management—specifically, that it will open up ocean beaches and headlands in sanctuary zones to recreational line fishing, continue the moratorium on creating any new marine parks, abolish the Marine Parks Authority and establish in its place two new bodies stacked with economic rationalists at the expense of ecological expertise. The Government previously sold out New South Wales’s natural environment in return for political deals on other important issues such as national parks by allowing shooting in our national parks. This latest development in our marine parks is equally shameful. It is worth remembering that the Government originally amended the Marine Parks Moratorium Bill so that the moratorium period could be defined in legislation as either five years from the commencement of operation of the amending bill or a shorter period linked to the completion of the scientific audit, whichever occurs sooner. In Hansard, the Minister for the Environment said:
The Government considers that this independent scientific audit is necessary to ensure that future decisions we make in relation to marine parks are evidence based and rely on the best possible information. We also include an amendment to prohibit conducting or continuing reviews of zoning plans within the moratorium period.
So in the Government’s response there was no acknowledgement that the audit report had recommended that mechanisms be found to enhance and protect biodiversity in the Hawkesbury and Twofold Shelf marine bioregions, which were identified gaps in the marine park system. No, of course not: that would not fit with its anti-marine science ideology. So what did the Government focus on? An amnesty—a free-for-all, an immediate lifting of restrictions on line fishing from ocean beaches and headlands in sanctuary zones which, of course, is a complete gift to the Shooters and Fishers Party—a gift to the Shooters and Fishers Party that could have significant implications for fish species that already are fully fished or overfished. For example, tailor is an inshore schooling fish and predator. It is classified as fully fished. Tailor live to 10 years and mature to about 10 kilograms. However, they are fished at around one to 1.5 kilograms before the species can reproduce. Older fish are commonly found around rocky headlands.
The estimated recreational catch of tailor in New South Wales is between 150 and 300 tonnes each year more than the commercial catch. So one can see how an influx of recreational fishers into sanctuary zones could be a huge blow to any newly recovered populations of species, such as tailor, in these areas. Mulloway, which is overfished, is even more at risk. Dr Daniel Bucher, who is a senior lecturer in fisheries biology and marine biology at the Southern Cross University, says that that decision is not supported by the science:
I have been scanning that audit with a fine tooth comb and I cannot see anywhere where this is actually part of that recommendation.
In fact quite the opposite. I have found parts of the audit where they believe that no take zones are important in the context of biodiversity conservation and where the aim is to preserve habitats from extracting uses including human impacts including fishing.
The decision to open up all of the coastal sanctuary zones to recreational fishing is not supported by the science.
The science of marine parks would say we need reference areas that are free from all potential human impacts that will serve as the long term reference against which we can measure impacts.
So what is line fishing in sanctuary zones? Surely it is effectively a change in the zoning of the marine park. Surely it is making sanctuary zones a habitat protection zone, or something similar. Remember the Government moved an amendment to the Marine Parks Moratorium Bill to prohibit conducting or continuing reviews of zoning plans within the moratorium period. This is rezoning of a marine park by stealth. Perversely, this free-for-all in the sanctuary zones will occur while a new yet-to-be-formulated expert knowledge panel, which will be headed up by an economist, undertakes a six-month assessment of recreational fishing access to these areas. Why on earth would a Government lift the amnesty before the review or assessment has been undertaken? It is disgraceful. Once again, this Government has demonstrated absolute contempt for marine science in New South Wales. In fact, this move makes no sense unless it is yet another move to pander to the Shooters and Fishers Party. Then it makes sense.
Indeed, the Government’s response to the audit report is at best ill informed and at worst just a politically motivated restatement of Coalition prejudice against the protection of the State’s marine reserves. But in parallel with this fixing of the findings of the audit report, I draw attention to the Government’s progressive dismantling of scientifically credible information sources about the state of our marine environment. One of the recommendations of the audit report was to expand the scope of ongoing assessments of fish stocks and to assess ecological sustainability and management of fisheries rather than just stocks. Yet the body responsible for undertaking regular three-yearly monitoring of the status of fish resources was the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre of Excellence. The centre of excellence was abolished by the Minister for Fisheries, Katrina Hodgkinson, last year.
Now, apparently, the latest three-year fish stock assessment, which is due out now, has not even been started. The Government says it is delivering on its election commitment for a common sense marine parks policy. Well common sense would tell the Government that we need to conserve fish stocks for future generations. The audit and the review of management practices is just a front behind which the Government is undermining the marine park system, dismantling systematic scientific research, and using our precious marine environment as bargaining chips to please a minority voice within the fishing community, The Nationals, and to maintain the favour of the Shooters and Fishers Party.