THE US-based Pew organisation is claiming victory in its anti-fishing agenda following the announcement last week of a system of federal marine parks in Australian waters. However, Aussie anglers are preparing for the next stage of the battle with a concerted campaign aiming to ensure access to iconic fishing areas.
While admitting he had failed to achieve a complete no-fishing ban in Australia’s Coral Sea, Pew Global Ocean Legacy director Jay Nelson described the commonwealth marine reserves zoning plan made by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke last Thursday as “very good news”. Nelson said Pew had been leading a “determined coalition of 15 Australian and international conservation groups in a challenging campaign to achieve protection for the Coral Sea”.
“While the outcome is not all that we would have wanted, it is a major contribution to global ocean protection,” Nelson said.
Pew is also claiming credit for banning anglers from other areas around Australia. “I’m also pleased to report that our Pew Environment Group colleagues working in other coastal areas of Australia were successful in securing an additional 282,000 square kilometres of fully protected marine waters spread across sites along Australia´s southwest, north, and northwest marine regions.”
Pew’s victory speeches come as Australian anglers unite behind the newly-formed Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF), which is undertaking a national campaign urging the Government to avoid locking anglers out of iconic fishing areas.
“ARFF and our advocacy arm Keep Australia Fishing will be staging intensive campaigns to ensure that Mr Burke and his Labour Government colleagues realise that anglers are not a threat to our marine environments,” ARFF spokesman Allan Hansard told Fisho.
“We’ll be mobilising Australia’s 5 million anglers so that the Government very clearly hears what we want and expect from these federal marine parks. The simple message will be ‘Don’t Lock Us Out’.”
The marine parks announced last week are now subject to a 60-day consultation period after which they will be passed into law. Management plans allowing what activities are and aren’t allowed in the various zones will then need to be prepared and finalised. It is understood that Mr Burke wishes these management plans to be in place before the upcoming federal election, due in 2013.
Hansard said ARFF would be directing resources towards the management plan process in order to minimise loss of angling access in key areas in the Coral Sea and in the southwest region of WA. “While we support sensible measures to protect our marine resources from unsustainable activities like industrial exploitation and mining, there’s no need to ban recreational fishing. The Government has plenty of management methods by which it can achieve its environmental objectives without having to lock us out.”
Angling leaders had worked with Tony Burke to come up with compromise deals before last week’s zoning announcement. One such compromise was protecting “hard reef” areas in the Coral Sea but allowing sportfishing activities along reef edges. Examination of the maps released by the Environment Department show that some reef edges around iconic sportfishing areas such as Osprey, Shark and Marion reefs appear to be open, but until detailed maps with accurate contour lines are released it is impossible to assess whether Mr Burke has kept his word on this issue.
For these reef edges to remain as viable fishing areas, access needs to be maintained up to the perimeter of the reef, thus allowing anglers to cast, troll and jig for pelagic species such as marlin, wahoo, mackerel, dogtooth and yellowfin.
Charter operator Damon Olsen, from Nomad Sportfishing, one of the businesses likely to be hardest hit by the Government’s plans for the Coral Sea, has prepared an online letter pleading with Tony Burke to ensure Australian and international fishermen can continue to experience the Coral Sea’s world-renowned sportfishing opportunities.
“We need you to use every practical resource at your disposal to get as many people as you can reach to fill in our simple online form, and send a letter to the Australian Federal Environment Minister explaining why he needs to change his Coral Sea plans and keep Marion, Kenn and Osprey Reefs open to recreational fishing,” Olsen said on the Nomad website. “People power will win this – nothing else will make them change things! If you ever want to fish these reefs in the near or distant future, act now.”
Details on the Nomad campaign can be found HERE.
Meanwhile, ARFF and Keep Australia Fishing are launching a poster and flyer campaign in all Australian fishing tackle stores. The posters highlight a new website – keepaustraliafishing.org – which will serve as the main hub for all campaigns relating to marine parks and other issues facing Australian anglers.
A draft version of a Keep Australia Fishing campaign poster – the KFA website will be operational soon at: wwwkeepaustraliafishing.org.
ARFF will also be funding a national advertising campaign highlighting the economic and social threats to coastal and regional communities as a result of anti-fishing campaigns being staged by international organisations such as Pew.
“Australians need to know that these marine parks, and the extra closures and bans that the environment groups are already pushing for, pose a big threat to communities all around the nation,” Hansard said.
“Job losses, declines in tourism, big impacts on the boating and tackle industries and, probably the most important of all, the inability of average Aussies to go and wet a line are what will result from the anti-fishing agendas of Pew and its cohorts.
“The marine parks just announced are just the tip of the iceberg. The environment groups are already calling for more closures, for more fishing areas to be taken away from us. They’re not going to stop. We need to tell the Government that enough’s enough, that anglers aren’t the problem.
“We need the Government to stop toeing the Pew line and to realise that recreational fishing need not be banned from the Coral Sea reefs and from the waters in south-west WA.”
While Pew’s Jay Nelson seems to be claiming victory following the Government’s marine parks announcements, the federal Coalition, which is likely to take power following the 2013 election, is set to rain on his parade, pundits say.
Senator Richard Colbeck, the Opposition’s fisheries spokesman, made it clear to Fisho last week that while a Coalition government would be constrained to some extent by laws regarding the zoning of the new marine parks, there would be no hesitation in amending what can or can’t happen in those zones. This would mean that “green” zones which currently ban all fishing could be amended to allow certain types of sustainable fishing activity to occur.
Rec fishing leaders have welcomed the Coalition’s flexible approach on the management of marine park zones while highlighting the essential differences between recreational and commercial fishing. “It’s important the Coalition listen to anglers when we say that C&R sportfishing along a reef edge is vastly different in terms of sustainability than, say, dragging a trawl net across the ocean floor. ARFF represents the interests of Australian anglers. Developing sustainable ways to fish is part and parcel with those interests and the Coalition – and the current Government, for that matter – needs to realise that you can’t just lump rec fishing in with industrial fishing.”
Senator Colbeck said the Coalition was committed to having a scientific committee review the marine parks and said he favoured a “common sense” approach to marine protection. “If, for example, the science said it was important that coral reef be protected, then we would protect that reef. But protecting reef doesn’t stopping someone from fishing, it just might mean that they can’t drop an anchor on the coral. That’s the logical approach here.”
While last week’s announcements by Tony Burke have resulted in the Pew honchos in America celebrating another win in their global marine protection campaign, the fact that the management plans are not yet finalised, combined with the looming federal election, mean that it would seem unwise for anyone involved in this issue to claim victory – or admit defeat – just yet.