COMMENT: The big mako freak-out!

Peter Garrett’s decision to reverse a planned ban on catching mako sharks is a welcome and positive response to an issue that threatened to permanently erode any sense of ongoing goodwill between anglers and government.

The reasons fishos got so riled up about this proposed ban, which was due to come into effect on January 29, has got a lot to do with global bureaucracy and heavy-handed international “treaties” that have little or no relevance to Australian fisheries issues.

It was interesting to see how Minister Garrett’s office responded to the howls of protest from outraged anglers when news of the impending mako ban filtered through. The Minister’s political staffers obviously had no idea that this proposed ban would cause the kerfuffle it did, mainly because they obviously have no idea about fishing. Leaked info revealed that public servants thought the ban would have “minimal” impact on anglers. Yeah, right! And after it became evident that anglers were not at all impressed with the proposed ban, the Minister’s office released a very strange press release saying that officials would basically turn a blind eye to anyone catching & releasing makos. If that was supposed to calm things down, it didn’t work. That ambiguously worded press release was like a flag of defeat – the political pressure was too much, something obviously had to give. Perhaps that oddly vague press release was a delaying tactic to allow the Government time to sort the mess out?

There was no need for all this fuss. If the Minister, via his office, had bothered to consult with angling groups before announcing the ban, then we probably could have sorted things out nice and quietly. That unfortunately didn’t happen, and Minister Garrett, already deeply suspect with anglers because of his supposed links with green extremists over the Coral Sea issue, copped a flogging from thousands of irate fishos. The protests, aided and abetted by opportunists in the Coalition ranks (whom, it must be said, introduced the CMS treaty in the first place), resulted in the federal Environment Department backing down over the mako ban and the Cabinet deciding to rework our legislative obligations under international treaties.

This episode reveals a couple of interesting points. The first is that Minister Garrett needs to seek advice on recreational fishing issues before embarking on any future adventures involving fish and fishermen. It’s clear that no-one in his office has any practical experience in these issues. In order to save time and money – not to mention the Minister’s political hide – it’s probably best that someone like Len Olyott at RecFish be summoned for a little chat before any major policy decisions are made.

Secondly, this episode demonstrates that Peter Garrett isn’t the gung-ho greenie extremist his opponents paint him as. It’s obvious from this outcome that Garrett responds to fact and reason, not airy-fairy rhetoric. It was clear from the start that this mako ban had nothing to do with Australian fisheries management requirements – it dealt exclusively with a foreign issue. Trouble was, Garrett effectively had his hands tied.

But after he had examined the options, and got a taste of the political flak that was being aimed in his direction, Garrett, to his credit, made the decision to can the ban. That decision was based on science, common sense and a fair degree of political expediency. It took the concerted efforts of thousands of Aussie fishos to force the Minister into acting, but he did it. Good on him for doing so.

On the other hand, if makos were shown to be under serious threat in Australian waters, I doubt any protest action – no matter how vociferous – would have swayed Garret from enforcing the ban. But they aren’t. So he couldn’t justify stopping us for fishing for them.

So, we had a win. But there are far bigger challenges facing us and our sport. This mako issue was just a skirmish. Let’s get ready for the real fight.


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