ENVIRONMENT: Sydney Marine Park politics

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Image: Mick Fletoridis

WHAT a weird outcome. After several years of consultation and consideration, we’ve ended up with a model for a Sydney “marine park” that tweaks an existing set of small marine protected areas, mainly aquatic reserves each with their own odd rules, and adds another 14 new areas to create a network of 25 disconnected sites across the Hawkesbury Shelf bioregion.


It’s claimed “The new marine park will enhance the conservation of marine biodiversity in the bioregion” and maybe it will a bit, on a very local level. But will it assist in species recovery and broader protection? Surely removal of impactful commercial harvesting methods on a broad scale and enforcing tight bag limits on recreational fishers does that, in combination with the creation of no-take zones for genuinely threatened populations.


It’s also claimed that “It will also help to maximise the environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits the NSW community derives from the marine estate in this region.” And that’s where recreational fishers get hit. It looks not like a true, scientifically justified conservation measure, but as a resource reallocation from us recreational fishers to other user groups…..scuba divers, snorkellers, paddlers, tourist operators.


New site selection or changed zoning within existing reserves appears to be largely lobby group driven. A couple of examples follow.


In North Harbour, Fairlight Bay becomes a sanctuary zone in an expanded site, which means snorkellers and scuba divers are favoured over anglers who currently fish the reefs on either side of the bay. Similarly for Nielsen Park and the Bottle and Glass reefs. Manly Council gets its Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve extended as a sanctuary zone all the way to Bluefish Point, taking out a whole set of iconic rock fishing spots from Shelly Beach Headland to the Bluefish Gutters.


In the east, there’s a large 2,028 hectare site proposed for the coastline between the south end of Bondi Beach and the north end of Coogee beach. Current popular fishing spots that will become off limits include South Bondi, Mackenzies, Bronte Beach, Waverly Cemetery, Shark Point, Clovelly Point, North Coogee Point and the drifting grounds off Gordon’s Bay, which is home to a small boat fishing club. This proposal combines a range of issues of concern about the whole process. First, it’s one of the safer stretches of coast for fishing when compared to north of Bondi and south of Coogee, with their dangerous cliffs and exposed headlands. Displaced rock fishers will presumably move to less safe spots and older beach fishos will presumably retire to the bowling clubs. Second, it is an area where for many years a vocal anti-fishing lobby group has campaigned to outlaw all fishing. Third, Coogee is a very marginal state seat and it appears that the Coalition government which currently holds it thinks that creating this area will be a positive for it in the 2019 election. Many residents are not so sure.

Anglers from other areas affected by the proposals may well make similar observations.


So, what to do? Wish I knew. Labor and the Greens reckon this proposal doesn’t go anywhere near far enough and have promised a full-scale marine park for the Hawkesbury Shelf bioregion, extending three miles out to sea and taking in all the harbours, inlets, rivers and coastal lagoons. The Coalition seems to have gone with this proposed limited option to keep at least some faith with its greener constituents but given its actions with respect to clearing native vegetation and de-funding of terrestrial national parks it sure doesn’t look like it’s done it out of a commitment to a true conservation ethic.


Maybe the best recreational fishers can do is voice their concerns in big numbers, and hope both major parties take some notice, if only for pragmatic political reasons. And as we’ve written many times, the original architects of NSW’s marine park system said that with Port Stephens Marine Park to the north and Jervis Bay Marine Park to the south, a marine park off Sydney wasn’t needed on conservation grounds.



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