Marine Parks under microscope

THE Victorian government is investigating the health of the state’s marine parks, amid fears areas around them are being overfished and becoming eroded by pests and pollution.

While conservationists are warning the bays surrounding the marine parks require more protection to remain viable, anglers disagree, saying there is not enough evidence to suggest existing controls around the coast have improved marine life.

Victoria currently has 13 marine national parks and 11 marine sanctuaries – representing just over 5 per cent of the state’s coastal waters.

Environmental groups want more ”no-go” zones – or in some cases, an expansion of existing ones – as part of a broader government strategy to manage the bays.

Ten years after the introduction of the state’s marine parks, the Baillieu government has commissioned the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council to conduct a review.

Emily Broadbent, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ryan Smith, said the inquiry was a Coalition election promise, designed to examine how well the marine parks were operating amid continuing concerns about their value.

The inquiry has prompted concerns from environmentalists, who say the terms of reference are too narrow because the review will only look at ”existing” marine parks.

Victorian anglers say there is no evidence that having marine protected areas has provided any real gains.

”We don’t support the creation of more marine parks, and we don’t support the current marine parks unless there is data that show us the benefits,” VR Fish executive officer Christopher Collins told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Chris Smyth, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s health oceans campaigner, said the inquiry should be used to develop a detailed marine plan to monitor the bays to ensure it remained sustainable.

Ms Broadbent said the government did not intend to increase marine parks ”given that we need to concentrate on turning around the previous poor management of the existing parks”.

Asked if the inquiry was designed to ease fishing restrictions in the bay, she said the government was committed to ”improving opportunities for recreational fishers” but any changes would be subject to advice following the investigation.

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