By Finlay Boyle
In March last year, the NSW Government introduced a fishing amnesty in marine park sanctuary zones where fishing had previously been prohibited, allowing recreational fishers to fish from the shore.
While only intended to last six months, the fact the amnesty is still in operation is causing widespread concern for the future of the marine parks.
Claudette Rechtorik, president of the Sea Life Conservation Fund, believes shore fishing should not be allowed in sanctuary zones, and should be regulated due to its impact.
“It is a real threat when you consider that recreational fishers take more of some fish species than commercial fishing, and they do have a significant impact on fish stocks,” she says. “Coastal fishing is where most of the environmental disturbance occurs and where most of the damage is done.”
Ms Rechtorik says marine parks and sanctuary zones are imperative to ecological sustainability. “We’ve got a huge population living on the coast and we are having an impact. We need to be able to manage our impact on the environment and marine parks are a part of that,” she says.
In regards to the Government’s inactivity on decision-making, Ms Rechtorik and the Sea Life Conservation Fund are “waiting every day because the decision is supposed to be imminent, it was supposed to be imminent last year”. However, Ms Rechtorik believes the Government is responding to environmental concerns. “We think our campaign as marine organisations working collaboratively has actually rocked them a little bit.”
The National Parks Association acknowledges the need to preserve the parks for future generations of fishers and snorkelers alike.
John Turnbull, executive committee member of the NPA says, “The marine environment is there for a number of purposes, so clearly we’d like to see people able to go boating and fishing and we’re supportive of that.“ However, he says “while you want to allow those activities, you also need to manage the environment so that there’s not so much of it that you start to damage the very thing that attracts you”.
Although supportive of a variety of marine activities including fishing, John Turnbull explains that marine parks “only make up 6.7 per cent of NSW waters, which means that fishers have access to 93.3 per cent of NSW waters, and in my view, that’s plenty. Why do we now need fishing in the last little bit?”.
Mr Turnbull says NPA surveys indicate that people are supportive. “If you talk to fishers, they’re quite happy for there to be sanctuary zones. They know that there needs to be an area put aside so that they can then catch fish later,” he says. “Ninety one per cent of fishers, when we survey them, support sanctuary zones.” He puts the resistance down to “a noisy minority, or a politically powerful minority, whichever way you look at it”.
Dr Will Figueira, senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Sydney, has worked extensively in the field of marine ecology and believes that the amnesty should be lifted.
“All the data that’s been collected on fishing in NSW so far would suggest that this is a bad course of action,” he says. “The NSW decision was made, probably not overnight, but that’s how it looked. The Government has yet to supply any evidence that shows that there was any discussion or any consultation that went into making that decision prior to it being made.”
Due to the lack of funding available for marine research, Dr Figueira says, “We are living in a very data-poor environment. The lack of data is being interpreted as a lack of effectiveness of sanctuary zones. But, of course, that’s not what that means. It takes roughly two to three years to go through the zoning process for a park, similarly the process to undo it should be equally onerous, and it’s not.
“As a scientist I can appreciate that we always need to re-evaluate our management strategies, and they should always be science-based. If scientific research shows that more fishing can be allowed, then so be it,” Dr Figueira says.
However, he remains disappointed with the Government’s inaction. “In the history of human exploitation of resources, when has biology and ecology won out over financial and social considerations? It doesn’t happen very often, unless someone steps in and says you just have to stop.”