As reported by Fisho last week, the Pew Environment Group in the US has been working with anglers to campaign for a ban on commercial long-lining in the Gulf of Mexico. Read story here. In response to this development, Fishing World editor Jim Harnwell contacted Pew's local representative, Imogen Zethoven, to find out if any plans are afoot for a similar campaign to run in Australian waters. Zethoven, who last year led the Pew's contentious push to ban all fishing in the Coral Sea, told us she was aware of the US campaign, but said she wouldn't be pushing for a local long-lining ban.
"Pew’s program of work is far larger in the US than it is here in Australia, where it is still relatively new. That’s why in the US we work on a range of issues that deal with overfishing, destructive fishing practices and habitat protection. Here our work has started with habitat protection. It may be in the future that we work on overfishing but that’s an unknown at present," Zethoven said.
In response, Harnwell pushed Zethoven about Pew's "anti-fishing" stance in Australia, suggesting that environmental groups would be better served working with - instead of against - fishos to achieve a better future for our marine environments.
"There is no 'working together', no sense of 'commonality', no 'shared goals' in the message being disseminated by environment organisations such as Pew (and various others) in relation to recreational fishing and environmental issues," Harnwell said in an email to Zethoven.
"Environment groups have shown no interest whatsoever in working with anglers in this country. All the policies that have emanated from your side of the debate have been negative - fishing is bad, anglers are greedy rednecks, we need to ban fishing. The fact is environmental groups, scientists, government and anglers could work together to develop strategies and policies to ensure Australia's fish stocks and marine environments remain as healthy as possible."
In response, Zethoven denied that Pew was anti-fishing. "Many Pew staff are recreational fishers themselves," she said. "Many work very constructively with the recreational sector in the US. The reality is we have a mix of approaches and we find synergies with recreational fishers on many issues."
Zethoven did not address Harnwell's specific questions as to why Pew was not working proactively with Australian anglers to solve serious environmental threats to fish stocks and habitat in Australian waters.
Further, she did not respond to continued questioning by Harnwell about possible resistance in some Australian environment groups in regard to developing working relationships with local angling organisations, nor would she comment about allegations of "prejudice" towards anglers by Australian-based environmental activists.
Zethoven made no comment when Harnwell asked about "the culture of environmental activism in Australia (not encouraging) people who have an interest in (or knowledge about) recreational fishing. That obviously occurs with some of your staffers in the US but I don't see it here. Why is that so?"
While confirming that overfishing and "IUU" (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing were worldwide problems, Zethoven stated that Pew has "never made any claims that recreational fishing in the Coral Sea is bad". Despite that, she continued to call for large scale recreational fishing bans in Australian waters, including the Coral Sea.
"The (Australian) Government’s marine bioregional planning process provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to establish a system of marine reserves around the country, and environment groups with a strong interest in the marine environment are naturally keen to make the most of this opportunity to achieve a national system of large marine sanctuaries to protect marine life into the future."
Following this, Harnwell sent an email to Zethoven, which contained the following comments:
"There is no biological need or scientific justification for blanket bans on recreational fishing in places like the Coral Sea. Yes, some areas need maximum protection from ALL human activity, including fishing. Yes, we need to get rid of destructive industrial fish extraction. And, yes, we need to manage and control recreational fishing activity. But we don't need to ban it completely in areas like the Coral Sea. Nothing you have said has highlighted anything but a purely philosophical position on this. Thinking that banning fishing is a good idea isn't a valid reason for doing so.
"I don't think anyone in the Australian government supports the large scale anti-recreational fishing agendas you've promoted. Given that, I can't see why you continue plugging it. All you are doing is making anglers, even reasonable green-tinged ones, think you are some sort of environmental Nazi.
"I can't for the life of me see the logic of your strategy here."
Zethoevn's final email outlined her displeasure at Harnwell's use of the words "environmental Nazi" and expressed disappointment that Fishing World would not take up her invitation to write an article on "Pew’s marine work globally, so that your readers can see our work in Australia within a broader context".
We'll keep you posted on further developments.