Desperate greens attack Coral Sea report

A coalition of green groups has strongly criticised an independent report by a leading Australian marine scientist which discredits information being used to justify the push by the American-based Pew group to create a vast no-fishing zone in the Coral Sea.

The attack comes as federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett again hinted that he was not in favour of banning fishing in the Coral Sea, an outcome that will likely anger green activists desperate to restrict access to 1 million square kilometres of Australian waters.

And in a further blow to the anti-fishing lobby, the federal Opposition has blasted the actions of “fringe environmental groups” in attempting to influence the Government.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) yesterday said green groups “were responding to an unsubstantiated attack on the science underpinning the declaration of the area as a Conservation Zone by Minister Peter Garrett. The unfounded criticism comes in an industry report prepared by Dr Ben Diggles, a consultant who has worked for one of the charter fishing businesses that operates in the Coral Sea”.

Diggles, an independent scientist and researcher who has been Fishing World’s Marine Biology Editor for more than 10 years, refutes the AMCS claims.

“My review simply summarised for laypeople such as Marine Queensland the scientific credibility of the papers cited by (the Environment Department) as underpinning their declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone,” Diggles said.

 “I found that (the Department) had ready access to high quality science produced by Australian researchers, but by their own admittance, they chose to hang their hat on rather dubious science generated by overseas research groups, and even worse, a sensationalist press release produced by an environmental group.”

Various anti-fishing organisation, led by the US-funded Pew Environment Group, have been trying to pressure Peter Garrett to completely ban all fishing in the Coral Sea.

In a recent interview with Fishing World editor Jim Harnwell, Garrett said he wanted to reach a “balance point” between conservation and well-managed recreational fishing.

A spokesman for the Minister today backed up those statements, telling Fisho that “any decisions to establish marine reserves in Commonwealth waters in the region will not simply be a blanket ban on fishing, either recreationally or commercially. There will be some areas identified for high levels of protection, others areas will be made multiple use and allow for continued access for activities such as fishing.”

Diggles today denied the claim that he worked as a consultant for a charter operation.
“I must address inaccurate claims by the AMCS that I have worked for one of the charter operations in the Coral Sea. The truth is I have advised Nomad Sportfishing charters on various scientific matters relating to design of research programs they have been trying to develop to increase knowledge of the movements of several key sportfish species in the Coral Sea region. I have not been paid one cent for this advice. This is another prime example of the willingness of these conservation groups to play fast and loose with the facts.”

Conservation groups say they are united in their call for the Coral Sea to be included in a marine park. “The Coral Sea is of great historic importance as it was the site of the most important naval battle ever engaged in by Australia” said Toby Hutcheon of the Queensland Conservation Council.

This unity is not evident in comments by leading green group the WWF which has criticised the hard-line Pew push to completely close off the Coral Sea as “ridiculous” and “unhelpful”.

Don Jones, the CEO of Marine Queensland, the peak industry organisation representing recreational boating and fishing in that state which commissioned the report, said he was not surprised by the vociferous response to the Diggles paper.

“The key issue from our perspective is not a debate about protection – we agree that protection is essential. Our argument is that the measures put in place need to be sophisticated to address the multiple use conflicts that arise. There are many examples of sophisticated management measures around the world. Unfortunately here in Australia, the protection tool kit only seems to have one tool in it – lock it up and lock people out.”

RecFish Australia CEO Len Olyott said green groups should respect differing scientific opinions.

“I believe that there is an issue with (these groups) labeling this critique [by Dr Ben Diggles] as an attack. All scientific work is subject to peer review and I would imagine that scientists would welcome such review. The fact is that the media statements and campaigns led by Pew Environment Group and the AMCS have very little base in reality and, until now, they have been getting away with it.”

“I invite any one from this Alliance to meet with RecFish and other peak bodies. Let’s have a serious conversation about marine conservation. Surprisingly our common ground is a lot more extensive than our points of difference.”

Ben Diggles echoes this moderate and balanced view.

“I have no personal objections to development of a marine park in the Coral Sea,” Diggles told Fisho today.

“However, as a scientist, I cannot support extreme positions that call for a million square kilometre fishing closure when 60 per cent of the reef area in the region has already been closed to all extractive activities for over 25 years, and these closures have been demonstrated not to protect these reefs from the real threats to their existence.

“As anyone who read my report will know, it was far from unsubstantiated, instead it drew heavily from directly relevant studies from the region and simply presented the facts.”

Meanwhile, the Opposition fisheries spokesman Senator Richard Colbeck called into question the data used by the anti-fishing groups to support their case to close off the Coral Sea and criticised Peter Garrett for not consulting with fishermen before he declared the Coral Sea Conservation Zone.

“(The Coral Sea conservation zone) was a fanciful and extreme proposal put to (Peter Garrett) by a fringe environmental group that he seemingly accepted without questioning the impact upon recreational and commercial fishers,” Senator Colbeck told Fisho today.

“Unfortunately, as demonstrated in recent revelations in the climate change debate, it is possible to manipulate scientific data to make it appear to represent a certain point of view.

“These recent events reinforce the absolute necessity for genuine consultation when making such important decisions.

“The Federal Coalition has been critical of the Rudd Government and Minister Garrett in particular for making decisions based on the representations of fringe environmental groups and without genuine consultation with all stakeholders.

“The examples of this practice unfortunately continue to accumulate.”

Dr Ben Diggles’ full report on the science behind the Coral Sea Conservation Zone can be read here: Marine QLD report

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