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This thing called life

Without management plans, marine parks will not provide environmental benefits

Want to catch more fish? Science says: save a place for baby fish to grow. E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

Over a year ago I wrote an article in this column saying that the marine parks were good news, even for recreational fishers and the fishing industry.

Last Friday, the Abbott government announced that they will be removing the management plans from those parks, rendering them ineffective. This decision ignores 20 years of scientific and public consultation that continued under Labor and Coalition governments and cost the taxpayer millions of dollars.

The commitment to a scientific review is one of the most disingenuous statements I have ever heard, given that it chooses to ignore decades of well documented marine science.

Recreational fishers have welcomed the move, but this is a short-sighted and uninformed perspective. Their objection to being “locked out” of certain areas of our vast southern oceans fails to recognise that setting aside some areas for fish breeding is the best way to ensure a future for many species of their favourite fish.

Here is how it works: areas protected from commercial and recreational fishing allow marine species in those zones to become locally abundant, ensuring that there is a constant supply of fish outside of the protected areas. Not only are there more fish in protected areas, they remain healthier and grow larger, allowing them to produce significantly more of the next generation.

It is not surprising that some of these protected areas are favoured fishing spots, because it makes sense to protect areas where the fish are already breeding. However, only 13% of the marine parks were set aside as no take zones, most of which are 50 km or more from the coast. Removing this protection in favour of “more research” is maddeningly foolish and completely unnecessary.

The worst thing we can do for the future of both recreational and commercial fishing is to not take steps to remove fishing pressure. Many marine species have crashed in recent years and fishers have every right to complain that our governments did not do more to ensure their future.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who has also approved dredging in the Great Barrier Reef, is looking like someone committed to development and exploitation rather than to the environment for which he is responsible. I worry about the future of our great southern oceans.

If you are worried too, you can let your federal minister know by using this link.

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