Environment News: Managing our Marine Estate

THIS is going to be a positive piece in support of the principles and priority setting framework recently published by the Marine Estate Management Authority, NSW and reported in Latest News on November 25. But usually when I write anything supportive of marine reserves there’s negative comment from at least some of their hardcore opponents.

So just as a lead in, here’s my personal position:

  • I don’t believe you can equate extractive commercial fishing with recreational: despite what surveys “demonstrate”; many rec-caught fish are released with high survival rates and rec by-catch impacts are low. 
  • I support establishing a number of no-take refuges for demersal species, particularly in the areas hosting known threatened species populations, but not arbitrary percentage total lock-outs (such as 30 per cent) for rec fishers.
  • I think that the establishment of Australia’s marine reserve system has suffered credibility problems due to what appears to be a not entirely scientific approach at local, state and federal government levels … the “we’ve got to have some” political drive similar to that used in declaring terrestrial “wilderness” areas … and that this has been made worse by a lack of transparency around the decision making processes.

So it’s nice to be able to say well done to the respective Ministers, the Chair and the experts and departmental officers who produced or supported the new NSW document and the approach it proposes. It establishes principles for “careful and effective management” of the marine estate, sets a vision of having “a healthy coast and sea, managed for the greatest well-being of the community now and into the future”.

It documents implications and challenges for decisions about achieving this. And really importantly, it states that “management decisions will be transparent and adjust in response to new information”.

It proposes a risk-based approach to the achievement of the correct level of marine protection, looking at both the consequence of threats being realised and assessment of the likelihood that they will in fact occur. The risk matrix methodology described and the Great Barrier Reef example used make good sense and show clearly how risks are assessed. For the GBR, sea temperature rise and ocean acidification are ranked as “almost certain” and “potentially catastrophic”. Nutrient and pesticide runoff both rank “almost certain” and “major”. But rec fishing related potential impacts such as using imported bait rank “unlikely” and “minor”, or for anchoring on coral “almost certain” but “minor.”

Even if we don’t completely agree with every assessment, at least it’s clear how decisions will be underpinned. I’m hoping that the NSW Authority and its expert panel receive ongoing government support in the form of both decision making and resource allocation and that other marine management bodies pick up on their transparent approach to this complex task.


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