ENVIRONMENT: Future challenges

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We need some no-take fish sanctuaries but the smart solution surely would be to pick hard to access areas with appropriate conservation values, and make them big enough to really make a difference.

THERE'S nothing like an election to bring out a raft of promises, usually around spending more taxation revenue in an attempt to attract blocks of votes from sectional interest groups like anglers. It’s certainly happening federally right now.

The run up to the recent NSW state election was a bit different in that the LNP strategists seemed to think that leading with a proposal to create a Sydney Marine Park might give a them a winning edge. Only problem was that the proposal tabled, after four years of so-called consultation, could best be described as a dog’s breakfast. The conservation outcomes it claimed would result appeared decidedly marginal. The no-take zones it proposed looked like a combination of SCUBA clubs and NIMBY anti-fishing resident groups’ wish lists. The biggest area of the proposed park was smack in the middle of the only metropolitan electorate, Coogee, that the LNP subsequently lost to Labor.

It really seemed as if the government had forgotten that thousands of anglers were going to be affected by the park, and that a large proportion of them were going to threaten all sorts of electoral consequences if the plan went ahead. The Twittersphere lit up and the government back peddled at 100 miles an hour.

Not a great outcome, given that marine conservation is a critical issue for us all, fishers and non-fishers, in an era where the realities of climate change and fish stock declines are really starting to bite. The NSW Greens reckon Australia’s east coast fish stocks have fallen by a third in the past decade, which anecdotally appears to be likely. Figures coming out of Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria support catch reduction claims. That leads to corresponding angler participation rate reductions, which leads to declining revenue from licence sales, which must be making fisheries management agencies, who have grown to depend on these revenue streams, quite nervous.  

Like it or not, we need some no-take fish sanctuaries. The smart solution surely is to pick hard to access /remote/infrequently fished areas with appropriate conservation values and make them big enough to really make a difference. Consulting properly with rec fishers could have prevented the NSW cock-up, but it’s admittedly hard when you don’t have an adequately resourced rec fishers’ peak body to assist with this.

And when you get to the pointy end of finalising park proposals, don’t necessarily give total responsibility to marine park zealots. Make sure you’ve got experienced, open-minded policy and scientific people doing this work, who aren’t going to surprise both the electorate and their ministers with the product.

There’s also not much use pretending that everything is rosy in the commercial sector. Knock out highly impactful methods in more than the current Recreational Fishing Havens if you really want to make a difference on fish stock declines. If there aren’t fish for anglers to catch, whether they’re retained or released, participation rates will continue to slide. Local economies will suffer. Kids won’t get involved in an activity that doesn’t give them an immediate return, however much money is thrown at education or “go fishing” days. Please think carefully about these issues when choosing who to vote for in any election.

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