Massive storm hits new Marine Parks proposal

by on 23 June, 2012

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen examines the controversy surrounding the Federal Government's decision to lock up much of the Coral Sea as "Marine Parks" :

A massive storm of controversy has hit plans by the Federal Government to lock up much of the Coral Sea in a series of huge marine parks in Australian waters.

Most commercial and amateur fishing organisations are strongly opposed to the plans announced by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on the eve of a major international environmental conference in Rio, while some tourism and environmental groups gave it a guarded tick of approval.
Opponents see it as an attempt by Mr Burke to save face in the wake of the damning draft report by UNESCO, which has threatened to place the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on the endangered list after visiting major expansion projects at Gladstone, Mackay and other northern ports in March.
Mr Burke this week was forced to delay his planned trip to Rio to promote the marine parks proposal so that he could face Opposition questions in Parliament.
 Some Green groups say the planned changes don’t go far enough, and various marine experts claim the closures more than 100 km offshore will do little to boost coastal fish stocks threatened by pollution from dredging and other major development.
Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd and LNP Senator Ron Boswell, who have been pushing for proper recognition of displaced commercial fishers in Gladstone, yesterday launched a strong attack on the new proposals, which follow another controversial  decision to allow a huge foreign trawler to operate in Australian waters.
They said the move by the Gillard Government to allow the 142-metre long Dutch-owned Margiris super-trawler to fish Australian waters was a slap in the face for our commercial fishermen who would soon be forced out of the proposed marine parks.
“Tony Burke is attempting to shut down the Australian commercial fishing sector with the world’s largest marine parks, and at the same time the Government has approved what will be the largest trawler ever to fish in Australian waters.
“This is stupidity at its best and again highlights the dysfunction in the Gillard Government and how again their policies are at cross purposes,” Senator Boswell said.
Mr O’Dowd said
the Government was sending mixed messages.
 “They must decide if they are for fishing and jobs or not.

 “I have been told that fish are the best renewable resource that we have, and if a reef or bommie becomes crowded, the fish actually stop breeding.

 “They are territorial and don’t like moving far away, thus catching a few actually helps numbers to regenerate,” Mr O’Dowd said.

He also claimed there was no scientific evidence to support change, no fish species were under threat in Queensland, 80 percent of fish products were imported already, and the new boundaries would open flood gates to other nations to  plunder our fishing grounds.

“How will we control these extra 3.1 million sq. km of waters when we can’t patrol existing protected waters?” Mr O’ Dowd asked.

Commonwealth Fisheries Association spokesman Brian Jeffriess said the plan showed a lack of cooperation between state and Federal Governments, to avoid duplication.

"What is symbolic about this is in the Minister's statement itself – all this about the biggest and best, the biggest and best in the world and you have to believe that's what it's about, beating your chest in front of the rest of the world rather than good ecosystem management”.

Mr Jeffriess said the changes would threaten the livelihood of fishing crews and their communities.

Rather than the $100 million compensation suggested by the Government, the amount needed was closer to between $250 and $300 million, he said.

A James Cook University scientist has also hit out at aspects of the proposal. Dr Terry Hughes, a Federation Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, writes in acadamic  blog, The Conversation:

“….Marine reserves rebuild depleted stocks of fisheries, but they do not address the impacts of coastal developments and pollution. While today’s announcement ….is a big step forward, it won’t change how we affect the marine environment from land. The number of major coastal development projects along the Great Barrier Reef has grown hugely in the past decade, and the new Queensland government has promised to reduce “green tape” in the future….

“In response, the UNESCO report has formally requested that the Australian Commonwealth prohibits the construction of new ports along the Queensland coast, and that all future coastal developments must not affect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area….

“The rush to get as much fossil fuel out of the ground as quickly as possible, before the transition to alternative sources of energy occurs, has pushed environmental concerns far into the background. The Commonwealth has been complicit in the damage coal mining is causing to the inner Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by allowing an unprecedented level of dredging and dumping within the boundaries of the World Heritage Area….”

Aquaculture expert Rangi Faulder, who has been assisting with research on seafood disease in Gladstone Harbour, says that the new marine parks will place more pressure on other areas where fishing is permitted.

“The right way to approach it would be to manage all areas that produce seafood sustainably, not take a path where areas are badly managed, so you offer up areas that can be kept free of all commercial fishing.

“Making (more) marine parks is a sign of losing areas because of bad management. Gladstone has ‘gone’ for fish, now we will lose the new marine parks for fishing too. 

“There are many instances of areas in the world not being too heavily fished and not being degraded and they will produce seafood forever. Let’s hope someday that is the way we work it all out, but I don't see this new move as a win at all. It's a con, epic fail.

“As for UNESCO, I'm certain they will see past this attempt and will be looking at how their specific recommendations are dealt with,” Mr Faulder said. 

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. This article first appeared in the Queensland Telegraph & The Mackay Telegraph  and is reproduced with permission. 

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