Update: 4.45pm One of WA’s foremost marine scientists has lamented plans for a network of marine parks around Australia as a lost opportunity, saying vital areas have been left unprotected.
Jessica Meeuwig, director of the University of WA Centre for Marine Futures, said the plans unveiled today by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke were a welcome step in marine conservation.
But Professor Meeuwig said Mr Burke should have included more areas over Australia’s continental shelf as no-take zones, which would have banned fishing and oil and gas drilling.
“Those core areas of sanctuaries where all fishing is restricted are still relatively small for the entire region of WA and they’re typically offshore,” Professor Meeuwig said.
“So we do have a challenge because the important habitats of the shelf, the areas shallower than 200m, still don’t have that much protection.”
Under the Gillard Government’s marine park plans, which were announced by Mr Burke in Sydney this morning, more than 20 areas off WA will be declared no-take zones.
Among the areas to be quarantined from any “extractive” industries are small zones within Geographe Bay near Busselton, west of Rottnest Island and north of the Dampier Peninsula near Broome.
There will also be big areas ruled off-limits to trawling and some kinds of shark fishing.
And the Government has banned oil and gas exploration off the entire Margaret River coast following a backlash against plans to drill there two years ago.
“This is the biggest step forward the globe has ever seen,” Mr Burke said.
“We have decided to become the world leader in ocean protection.”
As conservationists said the plans did not go far enough, commercial and recreational fishers warned the new parks were unnecessary and a blow to their ability to cast a line.
WA Fishing Industry Council chairman Brad Adams said several local operators, particularly those in the South West, would lose access to much of their fishing grounds under the changes.
Commercial fishermen will have access to a $100 million compensation package but Mr Adams said the scale of the compensation package seemed to be inadequate given how many businesses would be directly and indirectly affected by the marine reserves.
Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland said the Government’s announcement was disappointing and said the decisions had not been based on sound evidence.
Dr Rowland also accused Canberra of pandering to green interests in order to win votes at the expense of recreational fishing enthusiasts.
Earlier today State Resources Minister Norman Moore described the plan as a “dog’s breakfast” that will hurt WA’s economy.
While Federal environment Mr Burke believes the vast blueprint will balance conservation needs with those of the fishing and petroleum sectors, Mr Moore disagrees.
The plan would affect WA significantly, he said, with marine parks in the south-west coast and a “no oil” zone off the tourist and winery hub of Margaret River.
The proposal would severely curtail the state’s oil and gas industry, and impinge on current and future petroleum exploration and production.
It could also hamper the security of domestic energy supplies and liquefied natural gas exports.
“In addition, it will affect the $62.8 billion iron ore export industry due to restrictions on port and shipping access in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions,” Mr Moore said.
It would also push the community’s demand for fresh fish to imports from questionably managed overseas fisheries, he added.
Mr Moore said the Federal Government would need to ensure recreational fishing was not pushed into other areas managed by the State, leading to increased localised pressure on marine ecosystems.
He said the Commonwealth should address compensation for commercial fishers because its displacement package of $100 million was “woefully inadequate”.
The final plan was overly complex, presenting difficulties for recreational fishers in identifying the restricted areas, and it was unclear how the proposal affected rights already granted for oil and gas exploration within the new protected areas and surrounds.
There was also no provision for the cost of policing the new marine parks, Mr Moore said.
The announcement comes on top of recent moves by the Barnett Government to set up a series of marine reserves in waters between the coast and three nautical miles offshore.
In March, the State Government announced it had created the Ngari Capes Marine Park in the South West, while plans for a reserve at Camden Sound in the Kimberley were realised weeks later.
Mr Burke said the marine parks would enshrine the same level of protection for Australia’s oceans as existed on land.
WA Fishing Industry Council chairman Brad Adams said the parks would ruin some commercial fishermen and ultimately lead to higher seafood prices.