The US-based environment group Pew will not compromise on its mission to create a massive no-fishing zone in the Coral Sea off North Queensland, despite admitting that recreational fishing activities would probably have minimal environmental impacts in the remote area.
In an interview with Fisho this week, Pew Environment Group - Australia director Imogen Zethoven said the Coral Sea was a unique area which warranted complete protection from all "extractive activities".
"We want to see this area remain pristine and as unaffected by human contact as is possible."
Pew would not budge from its hardline commitment to "complete protection" for the Coral Sea, saying the multi-purpose marine parks established in other Australian waters were not suitable in this case.
Under the Pew plan, the federal Government would fund the creation of a one million sq km Coral Sea Marine Park, which would be policed by the Australian Navy and Coastguard.
Tourism activities such as diving and whale watching would be allowed in the park, as would shipping, but "extractive" operations such as oil and gas mining, commercial fishing and recreational fishing would be banned.
A 20-year veteran of the environment movement, Zethoven said Pew was mainly concerned with the damaging effects of industrial fishing on the Coral Sea, but said recreational fishing could cause "localised depletions".
Because the Coral Sea was a remote and difficult to access area most Australian anglers would not be affected by any decision to close it to fishing activities, she said. Many fishermen supported the implementation of no-fishing zones, Zethoven claimed, adding that protests about Pew's plans for the Coral Sea where being orchestrated by a small group of North Queensland-based activists who were spreading "misinformation".
Zethoven admitted she had minimal understanding or knowledge of recreational fishing - "I know a couple of people who describe themselves as 'fishaholics' but I'm not someone who fishes" - and said while catch & release fishing was a "legitimate activity" it would not be a suitable in any Coral Sea Marine Park.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett had not given Pew any special treatment in its lobbying efforts over the past year, Zethoven said, and had not given any indication of whether he would support the Pew proposal. Zethoven expected an announcement on the Coral Sea's future to be made by June next year, as part of the Government's plans for establishing national marine bio-regions.
Zethoven maintained that closing the Coral Sea to recreational fishing would help it combat the effects of climate change, despite science obtained by Fishing World showing such claims are unproven. "Protecting reef areas from fishing enables them to develop resilience to environmental problems such as bleaching," Zethoven said.
Pew would be undertaking a major publicity campaign over the next weeks to "educate" the Australian public on the importance of protecting the Coral Sea.
Fishing World will publish a transcript of our interview with Pew's Imogen Zethoven on www.fishingworld.com.au as soon as possible. In the meantime, the crux of the discussions are as follows: