COMMENT: Sydney Marine Park polls apart

Image: Scott Thomas

BACK in August 2014 Fishing World posted a comment piece from ANSA’s Stan Konstantaras about the Hawkesbury Shelf Bioregion consultation process. At the time, the initial process had just wrapped up and Stan argued that the Marine Estate Management Authority (MEMA) needed to show greater transparency and increase its involvement with the rec fishing community and its representatives. He also made the important point, amongst others, that much of Sydney’s waterways are already heavily restricted and further “lock-outs” without science were unnecessary.

Fishing World attached a poll to Stan’s piece asking readers: “Do you support lock-outs or better fisheries management?”. The response was overwhelming with 92 per cent of the 5755 votes calling for better fisheries management.

Fast forward to 2016 and with the Hawkesbury Bioregion submission process wrapping up on Sunday, Fishing World engaged a similar poll earlier this week and received almost identical results. Since Monday evening a whopping 4062 votes have been lodged with 96 per cent in favour of better fisheries management as opposed to lock-outs.

What’s important to recognise is these polls are aimed at rec fishos, not the general public, and represent an accurate snapshot of what keen Sydney fishos truly think of marine park lock-outs without the smoke and mirrors.

How does this compare to the conservation and dive groups’ approach to this process?

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, “Scientific and government surveys show the overwhelming majority of recreational fishers support sanctuaries once they’re established”. Not according to our polling; not even close!

The AMCS quote a 2014 Galaxy poll which found from 1007 NSW residents, “91 per cent of rec fishers support marine park sanctuaries”. How they determined rec fisher’s opinions by sampling a very small cross section of NSW’s residents is anyone’s guess.

Dive Industry Association president Richard Nicholls told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014: “There is overwhelming support for marine sanctuaries, and even the fishermen are opposed to fishing in them.”

It’s misleading to suggest rec fishers support being locked-out of otherwise sustainable fishing spots. To me it shows desperation from the conservation groups who’ve been caught off-guard by an unusually strong and organised rec fishing sector.

Rec anglers have raised a contentious point with the role played by media personalities such as Associate Professor Emma Johnston who recently said, “Like the majority of recreational fishers in NSW, I think that some areas should be closed to fishing”.

The Associate Professor also sits on the MEMA Marine Expert Knowledge Panel and now recreational anglers are questioning the motives of the Associate Professor and whether MEMA is truly independent.

The Australian arm of Pew Charitable Trust took a similar approach recently teaming up with fishing TV presenter Rob Paxevanos. In a surprising interview for the regional TV program, Paxevanos spoke about his support for marine park sanctuary zones.

Meanwhile, the Australian tackle trade and representative bodies have distanced themselves from Paxevanos’ comments which they say don’t represent the industry or rec fishos.

The Australian Marine Conservation Council has also launched a petition page on its website encouraging rec fishers to sign up and show their support for sanctuaries. Again, these groups are trying to show angler support for these lock-outs. Its misleading and dishonest.

As the public submission process comes to an end,what does this mean for the future of rec fishing around Sydney? There’s little doubt we’ll see lock-outs in some shape or form. However on a positive note, despite a slow start and lack of consultation between rec fishers and the MEMA, it’s pleasing to see a strong response from rec fishos and an orchestrated response from our representatives.

If the government looks at the huge numbers of rec fishers around Sydney and their value in the economy, who knows, maybe the outcome won’t be so bad?

What do you think? (Click here to vote in the poll)

If you want to have your say on the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion, or want any other information on this issue everything can be found by following this link and act quick, submissions close soon!

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