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Marine Reserves Network A Bit Fishy

By Em Allen on August 23, 2012 in

Photo: Greenpeace

Writing this at the crack of dawn on a mid-winter’s morn, it seemed appropriate given the tough fishing month ahead to stray a little off topic. As hopefully any keen angler and engaged member of our well-to-do society would know, the Federal Government recently took a huge step towards protecting the future marine biodiversity within Australia’s oceanic waters with its proposed Marine Reserves Network. This is a huge step for a country that already counts itself fortunate for having strict fishing rules and regulations for recreational and commercial fisherman alike.

Still, many people from both sides of the environmental divide are upset with the proposal. Green activists on one side are rightly disappointed that much of the protection falls short of banning oil and gas exploration, whilst on the fishing lobby side, concerns range from disappointment over personal loss of access to more sweeping concerns about the impact these marine reserves will have on regional economies where many people are engaged in fishing related industry.

One thing is for sure though, in a time when many of the world’s oceans are in serious decline, fish stocks are crashing and entire ‘fish specific’ industries are collapsing, we must take action to safeguard our own waters and to ensure a healthy ocean that can continue to supply food to future generations.

While I am in essence a supporter of the proposed Marine Reserves Network, it raises some serious questions. For starters, it seems ludicrous to exclude recreational anglers from many of these reserves when oil and gas exploration are allowed to move forward almost full steam ahead. While we have seen the impact that these lucrative sectors can have on the environment, the financial safety net we’ve enjoyed as a nation for the past few years wouldn’t exist without them. So where does one draw the line?

Though the loss of jobs and industry in the fishing sector looks immanent, the Prime Minister has gazetted $100 million for compensation. However, all one needs to do is take a look at the cost of compensation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park closures, which blew out to $250 million, and it is easy o see that the $100 million may not hit the mark.

Another serious concern is how the government is going to fund the policing of these huge tracts of ocean. We all know that state-based marine park officers are fighting a losing battle. Even now there are not enough officers to cover the amount of water currently under management. Sure, they catch a few stupid law-breakers but the real poachers and shamateurs seem to continuously slip through the net.

Perhaps the biggest hypocrisy of all though is that the government has allowed one of the world’s largest ocean trawl vessels, the Dutch owned FV Margiris, into Australian waters to plunder our small pelagic fishing stocks. Yes, that’s correct, a foreign-owned, floating, fish-canning super factory raping our seas of the very resources that our government is claiming it is out to protect. And what happens to these fish? They get sent to the very countries this death machine has just finished raping.

It seems there never is an end to the conflict over the future of fish in our oceans. Let’s hope that healthy debate and sound management practices prevail and the aim of conservation is achieved.

I will be back with the regular fishing report in next month’s edition of The Beast.