TONY Burke has bowed to pressure from anti-fishing groups by locking anglers out of iconic reefs in the Coral Sea, as well as significant areas in the south-west and north of WA and remote areas of SA.
But the federal Environment Minister has lessened the blow by avoiding closures around major population areas in southern Queensland, NSW and Victoria. The NT also remains largely unaffected. In the areas he has mooted for significant protection, the Minister appears to have heeded advice from angling groups by creating rec-only "gold" zones in some important sportfishing areas of the Coral Sea and by ensuring fishing access to productive edges and drop-offs close to certain key reefs.
The federal Environment Minister today announced the final zoning plans for what will become the world's largest marine park, covering 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean in five main zones in offshore waters surrounding every state and the Northern Territory.
"It's time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans," Mr Burke told the ABC.
"And Australia today is leading that next step."
Although there remains a final 60-day consultation period, the zones released today signal the shape and format of the Government's plans for its federal marine reserves.
"It's too late for people to say I want this line shifted or I want this zone painted a different colour," Tony Burke said. "The question now is very straightforward. Do we go ahead with the most comprehensive marine park network in the world or do we not?"
The commercial fishing industry will be hardest hit by the Government's marine protection plans, with large areas of ocean in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone now permanently closed to trawling and long line fishing. A compensation plan estimated to be worth more than $100 million is expected to be offered to commercial operators.
Environment groups are already signalling that they will be pushing for more areas to be "protected".
"The proposed reserves network is a significant step forward for marine conservation in Australia and on the world stage," Darren Kindleysides, director of the Australian Marine Conservation society, said. "We will keep striving to protect important areas that have been missed, including critical turtle and dugong habitat in the Gulf of Carpentaria, blue whale feeding grounds off Kangaroo Island and incredible coral reefs off the Kimberley coast."
Although a massive increase in "protection", the Government's marine reserves in the Coral Sea fall well short of the total lock-outs pushed for by the US-based Pew organisation. Fisho contacted Pew's Imogen Zethoven for comments on the Government's marine parks decision but received no response.
Angling leaders now see working with the Government on the format of the management plans as the main challenge. Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation spokesman Allan Hansard said the Government should seriously rethink the plan in the context of access to marine reserves for Australia's recreational anglers.
"The underlying problem that the Government is basing the marine park system on an archaic zoning rule that treats Aussie anglers in the same way it treats industrial scale commercial fishing and oil and gas developments," Hansard said.
"It is ludicrous to think that a Mum and Dad fishing with their kids in a tinny is classified in the same way as industrial scale commercial fishing vessels or an oil and gas mining company and 'locked out' of a marine park as a result.
"This archaic rule means we are now facing being locked out of vast tracts of Australia's seas and a number of inshore iconic fishing spots such as Osprey reef in the Coral Sea, Geographe Bay, Perth Trench and Dampier. These areas will be lost to recreational fishers forever and will have significant implications on the coastal communities that support recreational fishing in these areas."
Hansard said that Australia's 5 million anglers had not been presented with scientific justification warranting their exclusion from "green" zones in the new federal parks.
"The Minister can turn this outcome around by reviewing how recreational fishing is classified under the Marine Park zoning rules. We are asking him to do this as a matter of urgency, before he proclaims the Marine Park reserve system and locks Aussie recreational fishing families out of these areas forever," Hansard said.
Download a map of the proposed Marine Reserves here.