• Pew’s Outback to Oceans director Dr Barry Traill at Wooleen Station, WA. Image: Cally Sheehan
    Pew’s Outback to Oceans director Dr Barry Traill at Wooleen Station, WA. Image: Cally Sheehan

FISHO recently conducted a wide-ranging interview with Pew’s Outback to Oceans director Dr Barry Traill. The interview reveals that the environment group has made moves to shift away from the “no compromise” policies of former staffer Imogen Zethoven (who now works for Pew at its US headquarters) and is now seeking to engage with the recreational fishing community on issues of “mutual concern”, especially relating to industrial fishing operations.

The interview also makes it clear that Pew remains unwilling to change its stance on recreational fishing as an “extractive” activity. However, the organisation appears to be tempering its views on blanket lockouts with Dr Traill saying Pew will be lobbying for a “balanced” approach in its submissions to the federal Government’s marine parks review, which is currently underway.

Take a few minutes to read the following Q&A style interview and make your own mind up on Pew’s marine protection policies.

Is Pew advocating a sensible plan aimed at ensuring our oceans remain sustainable or is it following an anti-fishing agenda? And should the recreational fishing sector engage with Pew – and other environment groups – on issues like industrial fishing, pollution and water quality? Or does the environment sector remain an “enemy” which we should implacably oppose? Are there “common interests” we can both work on while retaining differences of opinion on other issues?

For background info on Pew’s previous activities in relation to the development of Australia’s marine park plans, see HERE.

Fishing World: Back in 2009, Pew strongly advocated for the closure of the entire Coral Sea to fishing, including recreational fishing. Now, in the latter stages of 2014, it is clear that Pew has failed in this particular campaign. Is Pew still committed to a total fishing ban in the Coral Sea or have you refined your policies? If so, what is your amended Coral Sea policy?

Barry Traill: Pew’s policy is a marine park system that provides an adequate level of reasonable protection for marine life. That includes marine parks that allow various uses and also for sanctuary areas that are no take. For more highly used coastal environments what we agitate for is more of a network of smaller sanctuaries. For bigger offshore areas which have a much lower level of use we think there’s a strong science case to be made that there should be large no take areas. The marine park management plans have currently been put to the side (as part of the federal Government’s review) but our starting point for the review is that we remain supportive of what was prescribed in them.
(Editor’s note: The management plans developed by the former Labor government, and which Pew and other environment groups continue to support, involve major closures in the Coral Sea and off the WA coast, as well as other areas. Prior to the last election, the current Government pledged to overturn bans on recreational fishing in these areas. It also needs to be noted that both Labor and the Coalition rejected the campaign led by Pew’s Imogen Zethoven to ban all fishing in the Coral Sea.)

FW: Rightly or wrongly, Pew has a very poor public image amongst the recreational fishing community. You are seen by many of us as being a group of foreign-controlled anti-fishing zealots trying impede or limit the ability of the “average Aussie” to enjoy wetting a line with his friends and family. Is this reputation justified? If not, why not?

BT: Pew successfully works with a whole range of rec fishers on a range of issues dealing with threats from gill nets, the super trawler and also with rec fishers who support putting marine parks in place. Certainly some fishers have got that headspace that we’re somehow seeking to interfere with their hobby. That’s certainly not what we are about. We support people doing rec fishing; it’s a wonderful way of life. A lot of us in Pew are recreational fishers. A lot of people who say they are conservationists are rec fishers and a lot of rec fishers say they are conservationists. I don’t see it as an “either/or” situation. Instead, I believe the great majority of people who fish recreationally would see themselves for obvious reasons as wanting to protect fisheries and marine environments for the long-term.

FW: Pew and many other environment organisations have tended to refer to “fishing” as a collective activity with no stated differentiation between commercial/industrial extraction and recreational enjoyment. There are obviously huge differences between various types of fishing, although it’s fair to say that the non-fishing populace may not realise that. Should you have been more honest about this and made clear distinctions between the various sectors and user groups instead of tarring us all with the same brush?

BT: It’s a fair comment that at times conservation organisations will generalise about fishing. And of course there’s a whole range of impacts from bottom trawling which destroys habitat through to (sustainable) commercial handline fishing through to (irresponsible) rec fishers and rec fishers who are very careful. There’s a whole spectrum there and we should distinguish more.

FW: What are your opinions on the establishment of “wilderness fishing areas” where anglers could practice catch & release and consume a few fish on site but not remove fish? Other recreational activities like diving and boating could also continue but no commercial or industrial activity. Do you see this as an alternative to the traditional “lock it all up” sanctuary zone?

BT: There’s certainly a place for recreational fishing zones. However, we haven’t seen any science that shows that C&R has no impact and there are also management complexities involved with that type of fishing. That’s why we advocate for a network approach where some areas are no-take and other areas allow for sustainable use.

FW: If an area is so special that it needs “sanctuary zone” type protection, surely that means that all human activity should be limited or banned? How can you legitimately allow things like diving and boating while banning recreational fishing? Surely it must be a case of one out, all out?

BT: The key point is extraction – the taking of marine life. Activities such as diving, boating and so on don’t pose an extractive issue, recreational fishing does.

FW: What, in your opinion, are the major threats facing our marine environments?

BT: There is a range of major threats facing the marine environment. The big ticket ones include a range of damaging commercial fishing operations, the total catch of fish (including in some cases recreational take), onshore pollution and offshore pollution. If you had to point to a global issue, it’s the rise of more and more fish being taken by the industrial fishing fleet. These boats are going deeper, further and getting more and more capacity. On a local perspective, we need to focus on the risk of the Government’s marine parks review accelerating commercial fishing activities in places like the Coral Sea.

FW: It’s fair to say that anglers and the conservation movement have shared concerns about some commercial fishing activities. It’s been proposed in some quarters that we join forces to oppose destructive or unsustainable activities. However, there is a concern that environment groups would “use” the angling sector to achieve its goals and then turn on us. Can you understand that there are concerns about this? If so, what are your responses to this scenario?

BT: The majority of rec anglers support marine parks and conservation. I don’t see a separation between what conservationists and anglers want in regards to marine protection. Instead I think there’s a lot of common interest (between the angling and conservation sectors) that should be explored more in regards to a range of threats facing the marine environment.

FW: Pew is an American-based organisation. What directive do you take from the US head office? And why does Pew in Australia seem more aggressive about seeking coastal closures than it seems your US colleagues are in their home country?

BT: We’re a global organisation with our HQ in US. There’s no difference in how Pew works in Australia to how we work in the US or anywhere else. There’s possibly more demonisation of Pew here in Australia but we have a similar level of engagement with rec fishers here in relation to similar policy areas such as gill netting issues, oil spills, protection for inland rivers and seeking an approach on marine parks. We do the same work here as we do in US.

FW: Thanks for your time.

BT: Appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.

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