COMMENT: Pew pushes to lock fishos out of Kimberley

THE US-based Pew environment group is funding a campaign to create a massive marine park in the Kimberley region of WA.

This new venture follows Pew’s efforts in lobbying the federal Government to lock anglers out of 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean in the Coral Sea off northern Queensland and along WA’s south-west.

Pew activists welcomed the announcement this week by WA Premier Colin Barnett of a 3000sqkm state marine park encompassing the famous “horizontal waterfalls”, Camden Sound and Walcott Inlet.
According to the WA Government, the marine park would protect unique coral reefs, dolphins and extensive mangrove systems and would provide “ongoing opportunities” for recreational fishing.

Fisho this week spoke with Kimberley rec-fishing identities who expressed scepticism about the state park, especially in relation to the WA Government’s plans to “industrialise” the Kimberley. The Kimberley locals regarded this announcement as being a “pre-election sweetener” by WA Premier Colin Barnett, who has come under heavy fire over his plans to create a massive gas plant at James Price Point near Broome.

“Barnett’s agenda is and always will be to industrialise the Kimberley and as he has nailed his colours to the mast at James Price Point, these proposals will always be nothing short of hypocrisy,” one prominent Kimberley identity told Fisho.

However, environment groups have welcomed Barnett’s announcement, with Pew’s Kimberley Conservation Project director John Carey telling The Sydney Morning Herald that the announcement was a “significant win” for the environment.

“Protecting the Kimberley coast and its marine and bird life provides a balance to the rapid spread of mining and other industrial development,” Carey, one of a team of Pew staffers working on the Kimberley campaign, said.
According to a Pew website, only about 5 per cent of the Kimberly’s marine resources are fully protected. The organisation is calling for the establishment of a “Great Kimberley Marine Park”. See details of the Pew plan HERE.

At this stage, the Pew campaign seems to be focused on limiting mining activity in the Kimberley – a goal that most conservation-minded anglers would likely support. But it’s also calling for a network of sanctuary zones where recreational fishing would presumably be banned. Exactly why rec fishing would need to be banned or limited in the Kimberley remains unclear. Is there scientific data indicating that rec-fishing pressure is having a deleterious impact on the Kimberley environment? Or is the pressure for lockouts being generated by some sort of anti-fishing philosophy?

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Interestingly, Pew seems to be shying away from wanting a total fishing closure in the Kimberley. This indicates a move away from the “no compromise” tactics advocated by veteran Pew activist Imogen Zethoven during her controversial Coral Sea campaign. Even other enviro groups thought Ms Zethoven was being a tad too gung ho by wanting all fishing banned across the entire Coral Sea. As it turns out, that 100 per cent ban didn’t get any traction with the federal Government. However, the Pew lobby is claiming victory as it did manage to pressure federal Environment Minister Tony Burke into closing iconic Coral Sea fisheries, a situation which groups like the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and Keep Australia Fishing (which I’m involved with) are trying hard to reverse.

While Pew seems to be taking a different tack with its plans in WA’s north-west, the organisation is pushing for up to 34 per cent of the Kimberley to be closed to “extractive industries”. Considering the size of the Kimberley, locking 34 per cent up in sanctuary zones equates to vast amounts of fishing areas lost. As with all marine parks, you’d expect these lock ups to encompass most, if not all, of the accessible and productive fishing areas.

Without wanting to appear too cynical (pretty hard when dealing with Pew, let me tell you!), you’d be excused for thinking that the remaining 66 per cent would be either inaccessible to anglers or have no fish-holding potential. This aside, Pew is using interesting terminology when it says it wants to ban “extractive industries”. Can Pew in all honesty compare recreational fishing to mining, gas exploration or intensive industrial fishing? Any reasonable person would probably say that well-managed rec fishing, especially in an area as remote and untouched as the Kimberley, can’t really be considered “extractive”, and certainly not an “industry”, at least when considered in the same context as an iron ore mine or a super trawler.

But are the Pew campaigners reasonable about things like this? You’d like to think they would be willing to talk and work with the angling sector – after all, the Kimberley is too valuable to lose, whether as an amazing environmental treasure or as an iconic sportfishing destination.

Pew in the US doesn’t seem to consider rec fishing as an “extractive industry” – remember how it said that fishing was too important to the US economy to be banned – see HERE – so you’d hope that sort of thinking would prevail. That’s what you’d hope, anyway. The reality may be completely different. We’ll keep you posted …

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Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World and a board member of the Keep Australia Fishing organisation. He has been reporting and commenting on Pew’s activities in Australia for the past several years.

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