Opinion: Commonsense Marine Reserves

ON the basis of the Australian experience, Fishing World readers could be forgiven for thinking that marine protection areas automatically lead to locking out all forms of recreational fishing.

This is in part due to the approach of some of your more extreme Greens, aided and abetted by the Pew Foundation, who, in your part of the world, have been intransigent in their refusal to make the all important distinction between the impacts of commercial exploitation and carefully managed recreational fishing.

Anglers operate with bag and size limits and a willingness, by many, to accept catch and release zones and spatial closures in order to protect fish spawning aggregations. On the other side there are still recreational fishing advocates who see no case for marine protection and labour under the misconception that our interests are best served by treating conservation as a dirty word and making common cause with the commercial sector – even to the extent of supporting the return of super trawlers and factory ships to Australian waters.

Small wonder then that much needed marine conservation measures have failed to attract the whole hearted support from the one sector who needs them the most. Luckily this is not the case in other places where sensible partnerships are producing real results.

I’ve written before about last year’s decision by US President Obama to declare the Pacific Remote Islands Area a national marine reserve where recreational fishing would continue, while highly extractive activities like commercial fishing and mining would be banned. This was widely welcomed by both environmental and angling groups and showed just how important it was to build a wide consensus of support for such measures.

The Yanks were by no means the first to combine marine protection areas with the continuation of responsible recreational fishing. In my Keep Australia Fishing report in 2011 I argued that the involvement of rec fishing organisations was vital in ensuring the credibility of marine conservation measures and cited the work of the British based Blue Marine Foundation in persuading the UK government to declare the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean as the world’s largest marine protected area, but where angling could continue as before.

This has now been followed up by last week’s welcome announcement by the Brits of a new, 834,000kms marine reserve round the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, making it the largest continuous marine protection area on the planet where damaging extractive activities such as commercial fishing and mining will be prohibited. Special satellite tracking technology will be deployed to monitor the position and actions of ships entering the area to assist in ensuring compliance. This has become increasingly necessary with the worrying rise in “illegal” commercial fishing which is now estimated to be responsible for as much as 20 per cent of all fish offered for sale with a global value of more than $US 20 million.

Over 1,200 marine species have been recorded around the Pitcairns, including whales and dolphins, 365 species of fish, turtles, seabirds and corals. Forty-eight of these species are globally threatened – such as the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and some are found nowhere else on Earth – such as the Pitcairn angelfish.

Blue Marine joined forces with other environmental NGOs, including Pew and the RSPB, along with scientists and celebrities to form the Great British Oceans Coalition. Their campaign was given a publicity boost last month when the actress, Helena Bonham Carter, appeared in publications around the world cuddling a bigeye tuna to draw attention to the crisis of commercial over-fishing.

Helena Bonham Carter said:

“It’s very proud-making that the government has just declared the largest marine reserve in the world.The waters around Pitcairn are teeming with turtles, whales, sharks and tuna, like the one I was cuddling in the Fishlove pictures. Thanks to this move by the government, these threatened species can regenerate and we won’t have to explain to our great grandchildren what a tuna is. I never knew taking my clothes off could be so effective. I must do it more often.”

See HERE for more details.

Future plans include similar designations in the South Atlantic around South Georgia and the iconic sportfishing destination of Ascension Island.

Green light for recreational fishing to continue and expand
The Pitcairn marine reserve will have a large area around the island for local subsistence fishing, and access to the rest if they need it to develop a tourist recreational fishing industry.

Blue Marine believes that recreational fishing is utterly key to the Ascension Island economy. Large marlin and other sportfish, caught under proper rules, are a real money spinner for the island, and infinitely preferable to issuing licences to foreign long-line fleets. They are drawing up proposals that are strongly in favour of developing recreational fishing there up to 12 miles out from the shore.

inline_385_ Island Gary Newman_D3036BB0-D0F1-11E4-9D38023E22C172F4.jpg

The author’s mate, Gary Newman, with a yellowfin tuna caught off the renowned sportfishing destination of Ascension Island. Image: Gary Newman

The excellent Charles Clover, Blue Marine’s Chairman, told me this week that he believes that recreational catch-and-release fishing is the perfect funding mechanism for marine reserves. Banning angling and subsistence fishing means everyone hates the reserve whilst developing recreational fishing means local people get to earn good money as guides and the local economies accrue substantial benefits.

Jonathan Hall from the RSPB confirmed the strong support for recreational fishing saying:

“As a keen recreational fisher myself, I’m happy to confirm that the proposals for Pitcairn and Ascension are designed to have zero impact on recreational fishing. The Pitcairn proposal allows recreational fishing within 12 miles of Pitcairn, out to 40 mile reef, and around the offshore islands.

On Ascension, given the immediate and huge drop-off all around the island, the recreational fishing community go out to a maximum of 2-3 miles from shore, and the sport fishing company normally only a little further. The latter has, however, very occasionally gone out to 9-10 miles from shore, so our proposal is to start protection from 12 nautical miles from shore and leave the inshore fishing area entirely unaffected. We are strongly in favour of further developing a well-regulated inshore fishery around Ascension as a sustainable financing mechanism.”

Colin Chester from the Ascension Island Fishing Charters is a signatory on the main statement in support of the marine reserves. (See

He said: “The 200 mile exclusion zone around the Ascension Island has ensured that the waters here are virtually untouched by commercial fishing and we hope to keep it this way.”

Marine Conservation is Crucial

I make no apology for quoting Keep Australia Fishing again in favour of the case for global marine conservation:

“The global situation is frightening with the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) reports revealing that 80 per cent of the world’s fish species are either fully or over exploited. With the global population projected to rise from the current 6.5 billion to nearly 10 billion people by 2050 and with huge advances in space age technology making commercial fish capture easier and more efficient, the omens are not good.”

What the announcements from the British and American governments have shown is that it is entirely possible for recreational fishing and marine conservation to work in partnership together. And in some places even with the support of the Pew Foundation – an organisation that has not exactly endeared itself to Aussie fishos in the past.

Martin Salter is Fisho’s UK correspondent.

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