OPINION: Why Burke should follow NSW’s lead on marine parks

LIKE his former colleagues in previous NSW Labor governments, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has relied heavily on input from green groups when formulating his commonwealth marine park plans.

In NSW, Labor’s attempts at securing green votes resulted in a system of marine parks that for years has been lambasted as unwieldy, inefficient and nonsensical.
That’s now starting to change. The findings of an independent audit established last year by the O’Farrell Government are beginning to be implemented. This signals a welcome move towards a “common sense” approach to marine protection.

Mr Burke’s federal marine protection plans are, however, rooted in the flawed NSW model. Instead of coming up with balanced and sensible federal marine parks, Mr Burke, a former NSW state Labor MP, has been swayed by the lobbying efforts of anti-fishing groups. As a result, his marine parks plans show he has slavishly followed their tired old “lock it up” mentality.

Most Aussie fishos would doubtless agree that this just isn’t good enough. Aside from being predictable, Mr Burke has adopted what can be seen as a fairly lazy approach to marine parks. This is disappointing but not totally unexpected. Coming up with new and interesting policies isn’t easy. Anyway, the lobbying muscle of international enviro-conglomerates like Pew would make any minister, especially an ALP one, think twice about not listening carefully to what they say.

The fact is, however, Mr Burke was given plenty of options for interesting and viable marine parks. Parks which provide rigorous protection where it is needed, but which encompass flexibility and imagination as well. Many of the concepts presented to Mr Burke by groups like the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and Keep Australia Fishing (of which I’m a board member) were quite similar to the ideas now being utilised in NSW, even though there was no collusion between what we were doing and the deliberations of the independent audit group commissioned by the NSW Government.

Although initially displaying some interest in what we had to say, Mr Burke decided to follow pretty much exactly what groups like Pew were calling for. He didn’t give them the 100 per cent closure they wanted in the Coral Sea but his decision to lock anglers out of all the major reef systems makes it effectively a total no go zone. He also followed Pew’s lead and made some really bizarre decisions in the south-west region of WA, especially around the Perth Trench. This area has long been used by WA gamefishermen targeting marlin. Under pressure from green groups, Burke decided to ban fishing there in order to “protect blue whales” and conserve the bottom topography.

This is a great example of the inflexible and fundamentally nonsensical nature of these marine park plans. The fact is there is no logical reason to ban fishing to protect whales nor to conserve undersea terrain. Whales are fully protected in Australia. Towing a Pakula lure or skip bait around isn’t going to cause a whale, blue or otherwise, any drama. Any fool knows that, just not Mr Burke. Or maybe he just doesn’t care …

To add insult to injury, the waters of the Perth Trench are thousands of feet deep. No recreational fishing method is going to have any impact on the undersea canyons that give this place its name. So why ban us from fishing there?

All of the above was explained to the esteemed minister – several times, in fact – but he went ahead and toed the Pew line: lock it up, close it down and throw away the key.
I saw this sort of idiot mentality when the NSW marine parks were first implemented a decade ago. One of the big issues for me back then was closing down access to beach fishing. There seemed to be no rationale, scientific or otherwise, to stopping someone targeting a bream or whiting on a beach. The target species are transitory, the environment dynamic. I, and many others, could see no reason to ban fishing on beaches. It just didn’t make sense, unless you either want to completely alienate the rec sector and/or snuggle up with the Greens.

I remember being at a meeting when a senior marine parks official said quite openly and categorically that there was no scientific or environmental reason to create sanctuary zones on beaches. “But it’s seen as being a political imperative so we have to have them,” the official said. Right there and then my belief in the marine parks process in NSW went right out the window. Much the same thing happened again when I listened to Tony Burke give what I regard as nonsensical reasons for banning fishing in the Coral Sea and in places like the Perth Trench.

It’s taken 10 years, the loss of many Labor seats and a change in government for some sense to start coming into the way marine parks are managed in NSW. I predict here and now that much the same sort of thing is destined to happen with Tony Burke’s federal marine parks. If the polls are right and Labor gets wiped out at the September 14 poll, the result will be that a Coalition Government will establish marine park reviews and inquiries and parliamentary committees that will drag on for years and cost millions. After all this is concluded – and who knows how long it will take – there will be Coalition press releases announcing “common sense” changes to federal marine parks.

Much of the hoo-haa, confusion and angst that will result from all of this could be avoided right now if Mr Burke adopted more sensible marine policies than the ones he’s let be foisted on him by the “lock it all up” brigade.

So, is Mr Burke going to see the light, change his mind and adopt what can be seen as a “sensible” approach to marine parks? No, of course not. But I for one will be lining up to tell him “I told you so” when it all goes pear shaped. You can count on that!

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World. He has covered marine parks issues for many years.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.