Finally Some Common Sense!

THE lengthy report prepared by Professor Bob Beeton and his colleagues backs up much of what anglers in NSW have been saying is wrong about marine parks. That is, the system of marine parks in NSW is fundamentally flawed and that there are better ways to protect fish and fish habitat.

Let’s get one thing straight: We need to protect our marine environment by managing it effectively. Only a fool would say otherwise. But unfortunately the debate about what constitutes marine protection has been dominated for years by various groups which have almost solely focused on “locking it all up”. This dogmatic approach is typified by infantile comments from Greens MP Cate Faehrmann after the report was released on Thursday. According to Ms Faehrmann, a former director of the NSW Nature Conservation Council, the report has found “that marine parks … work and we need more of them”. See the full Greens press release HERE.

Sorry Cate. The report doesn’t say that at all. Actually, according to the bloke who wrote it, it says exactly the opposite.

This predictable reaction from the NSW Greens is disappointing. Why? Because it shows that the Greens fail to realise the true environmental significance of this groundbreaking report. The fact is the reaction from Cate Faehrmann reveals that the Greens are more interested in politics than they are in working for the environment.

If the Audit Report is accepted by the NSW Government – and it would be an utter disgrace if it wasn’t – then the end result will be much better protection for our fragile rivers and estuaries. There’ll be a comprehensive and holistic approach to marine management, not just a piecemeal Band-Aid approach as currently exists.

The report says quite clearly that the current system of “representative” protection just doesn’t work. Locking up a few areas might make green activists feel like they’re doing something worthwhile for the environment, but it really does bugger all in regards to fixing the problems. That’s not me saying that. That’s what the six eminent and independent scientists who wrote this report say. The crux of the report is that it says you need to fix up the whole of the marine system, not just bits of it. Achieving this will take a long time and it will be extremely complicated. But the end result will be a healthier and more diverse marine environment.

The other interesting aspect of this report is that it clearly outlines the need for inclusive and meaningful community consultation about marine parks. In the past some of the consultation processes have been woeful, resulting in widespread community angler and disquiet. You can’t consult if you don’t listen. And if you listen to what the people are saying, then it stands to reason that you heed their voice and actually do what they ask. A few ex-Labor ministers and public servants probably should take note of what consultation actually is …

And I’m sure you’ll all be gratified to hear that Professor Beeton thinks fishos have been given pretty short shrift over this whole marine parks saga. During an interview I conducted with him after the report was released, the good professor made it clear that recreational fishing was an integral part of Australian society. Furthermore, he was of the strong opinion that the needs and “aspirations” of anglers must be taken into account in all future decisions about what he calls “the marine estate”.

The professor was mindful of the positive socio-economic benefits of rec fishing and was adamant that anglers need to have “ownership” of our marine environments in order for any meaningful enhancement and protection to take place. The take-home message here is that we all need to get involved and work together for the common good. The Habitat Initiative established by Fisho late last year is just one way you can make a beneficial change to your local river, creek or estuary. Why not contact your local Fisheries office and see what you can do to get involved with this?

All up, the report into marine parks offers a roadmap for the future of marine protection in NSW. Yes, there will be areas closed to fishing. But those closures will be based on science, not just to make up a quota of “no go zones”. There will be a much stronger emphasis on protecting fish habitat. As hinted at above, this is to be warmly welcomed. Anyone with even the slightest clue about fisheries management understands that if there’s no habitat, there’ll be no fish. If we manage to reclaim even just a small amount of the habitat lost to inappropriate development or pollution, we will reap the rewards with much healthier and more diverse fisheries.

So while retrogrades like Cate Faehrmann will more than likely keep the blinkers on and toe the “lock it up” line, the rest of us should use the messages contained within this independent report to move forward and create in NSW’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters a rich and diverse environment that will be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World

To view the report click here: Report of the Independent Scientific Audit of Marine Parks in New South Wales

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