Marine Parks Authority responds to public backlash

As reported yesterday by Fisho, the latest zoning restrictions to come into effect under the Solitary Islands Marine Park at Coffs Harbour have drawn a mixed response from user groups, with many anglers, divers and commercial fishermen disgruntled with the final outcome. After extensive public consultation over the past two years between local stakeholders and the Marine Park Authority, some groups say their concerns have been largely ignored. See yesterday’s story HERE.

In response to our report, Fisho was contacted today by the manager of the Solitary Islands Marine Park, Nicola Johnstone, who put forward the MPA’s side of the story.

As we had reported yesterday, anti-lockout campaigners felt the MPA had, on the whole, ignored suggestions from advisory committees and submissions from the public.

“No, it’s not the case,” said Johnstone.

“Many comments [from submissions and advisory committees] were adopted … we have listened.”

“On the face of it, all [user groups] have won something … or lost something,” she said.

“I really understand that people are unhappy”, she said. “But there are wins for each user group. It really is a balance.”

Johnstone said the MPA had tried to respect the needs of all stakeholders in the SIMP consultation process, somewhat of a monumental task with over 6500 public submissions lodged – due in no small part to the online savesol.com campaign. She admits that not all of the park’s user groups got a look in when it came to making changes.

“It’s not possible to incorporate everybody. It’s not workable,” she told Fisho.

The introduction of a Special Purpose area at Corindi/Red Rock has been the cause of much public angst according to a Fisho source involved in the consultation process. He told us a submission for the reef complex had been lodged six weeks after the closing date, and no public consultation on the zoning or inclusion on the draft rezoning plan was undertaken.

The SIMP manager rebukes this claim and says a submission for the Special Purpose zone at Corindi/Red Rock had been first lodged in 2001when the SIMP first underwent its marine park zoning process. This was followed up with another submission in 2002, she told Fisho.

The zoning of the reef in question has also resulted in confusion over the legalities of harvesting in the area, being as it encompasses a popular dive site due to a healthy lobster fishery.

Johnstone says fishing and spearfishing is still legal in the area, which will become a no-take zone for invertebrates (shellfish, lobsters) – Indigenous peoples are exempted from these restrictions under Special Purpose zoning.

While many stakeholders opposed to marine parks such as Solitary Islands say their introduction is the result of the NSW Government pandering to Green elements, according to Nicola Johnstone it’s not the case. She says Green groups on the whole are largely unhappy with the latest Solitary Islands zone plan.

“Conservation groups are saying they aren’t seeing the big changes. They’re not happy…”she said.

While she admits there has been a negative backlash from the release of the Solitary Islands rezoning the marine park’s manager says the MPA has also had good feedback from users; in particular, she cites the reopening of fishing in areas such as Groper Island and Bare Bluff as examples.

Johnstone told Fisho the public will be able to attend the MPA’s community information sessions on the SIMP rezoning in mid February in Coffs Harbour and Grafton.

The latest zoning plans for the Solitary Islands Marine Park come into effect on March 1 and will be in place until 2018, at which time the next stage of the draft rezoning consultation process commences.

For more information on the Solitary Islands Marine Park click HERE.

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