Comment: AFANT and NT Govt opposed to no-fishing zones

The Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT) and the NT Government have both confirmed their opposition to the establishment of recreational no-fishing zones off the Northern Territory coast.

For a number of years the Commonwealth Government has been involved in a Marine Bioregional Planning process for Commonwealth waters including those off the Northern Territory coast. Until now it has been a very disjointed stop-start affair which has consistently failed to meet the schedules it has set for itself.

It now appears that Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has his foot on the accelerator and is looking to have the process for Commonwealth waters off the NT coast finalised by the middle of next year. (Commonwealth waters are usually those outside three nautical miles from the coastline.) The process is pushing ahead despite the fact that a number of important policy issues such as dealing with displaced activity and whether or not to establish MPAs in areas that may be prospective for oil and gas remain unresolved.

The idea of providing greater protection for our marine environment is commendable but there is a very significant problem hidden away in the detail. That is the Environment Department’s stated intention that “While most of each new marine reserve will be zoned to allow many uses and activities to continue, highly protected zones will also be identified within each new marine reserve.”

What this really means is that there will be zones in each new reserve where recreational fishing is prohibited. 

No credible scientific evidence has been offered to show why no-fishing zones are necessary in waters off the NT and there has not even been any assessment to determine if recreational fishing poses a risk to marine biodiversity in our waters. The process completely ignores the success of NT recreational fishers and successive NT governments in implementing fisheries and environmental policies and legislation which has ensured that our fish stocks, marine habitats and marine biodiversity are near to pristine.
Ironically, the biggest threats to marine habitats and biodiversity in our waters are oil and gas well blow outs, illegal foreign fishing and bottom trawling for prawns and these activities are all under the control of the Commonwealth Government – the same government that wants to lock us out of offshore fishing areas without any logical reason for doing so. Perhaps Minister Garrett should be concentrating on making a real difference with these issues which are clear and present threats rather than supporting an illogical lock out of recreational fishers.

Another point that those pushing the no-fishing zones won’t acknowledge is that, for every productive recreational fishing area that is locked away, there will be increased effort in remaining fishing areas with possible consequences for the fish stocks and environment in those areas. AFANT’s policy of maintaining access to the greatest possible area for recreational fishing is firmly based on the principle of minimising localised fishing impacts by spreading effort as widely as possible. The NT Government continues to provide strong support for this policy position.

In keeping with our long-standing policy on the Marine Protected Area issue, AFANT will be doing all it can to oppose the introduction of the proposed no-fishing zones. We believe that such zones should not be established in waters that are actually accessed by recreational fishers unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the impact of fishers in that area is or will be damaging to particular elements of biodiversity and/or features or natural processes that are not represented in other marine areas and that lesser limitations on recreational fishing are unlikely to provide the required level of protection.

NT Fisheries Minister Kon Vatskalis last week publicly indicated that the NT Government is also opposed to the introduction of these recreational no-fishing zones in Commonwealth waters off the NT coast. We already have a commitment from the NT Government that they will not be established in waters under its control. We are grateful for the support of the Minister on this very important issue.

Another point to consider is that, once no-fishing zones are established, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever get the restrictions lifted. Areas locked up in this process will be lost forever!

It is therefore very important that, when looking at areas that we need to ensure remain open to recreational fishing, we not only consider those places we fish now but that we also look at where we will be fishing in 10 years time, where our kids will be fishing in 20 years time and where our grandkids will be fishing in 50 years time

The map that accompanies this article shows the general “areas for further assessment” in the North Region where the Commonwealth is considering establishing Marine Protected Areas and, subsequently, no-fishing zones.


As you can see, there is a huge area of sea under scrutiny here. AFANT is going to do all it can to ensure that recreational fishers in the Territory don’t end up like their Queensland and NSW with many of their most productive fishing areas locked away. The NT Government has indicated it will support our efforts.

Chris Makepeace
Executive Officer
Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT Inc.

Editor’s note: Chris Makepeace also recommends reading David Green’s column “Fishing Politics” in November Fishing World magazine – particularly the final paragraph – where according to Makepeace the no-fishing zones issue is summed up succinctly. 


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