Recent federal government announcement re proclaiming the new Commonwealth Marine Fish Reserves. Contradicts previous plans to safeguard Australia’s marine biodiversity and to review management of Australia’s Marine Parks.

The government that in power at the time had plan to create a small number of marine sanctuary zones. Where commercial and recreational fishing would be prohibit. It seems that the new government is arguing that recreational fishing can be allow while still protecting biodiversity.

This is an excellent opportunity to increase ocean protection in Australia. However, the calls for further consultation and a scientific review are troubling. There is already strong scientific support for high-protected no-take zones. It seems that the announcement ignores the potential impact of recreational fishing on marine biodiversity. And that marine reserves could improve fishing outcomes.

Science Buckets

What are the advantages of no-take zones for ocean protection? Scientists have long been asking this question and now there are plenty of proof to support the idea that no-take zones are essential for protecting our oceans.

Marine sanctuaries are highly protect marine reserves that prohibit take. They increase fish diversity, abundance, and size around the world. Marine sanctuaries in Australia also have significant benefits.

The benefits of marine sanctuary areas are so evident that thousands upon thousands of scientists around the world have signed multiple consensus statements recognizing their importance to ocean health, as well as statements noting their unique role as ecosystem managers.

Research shows that marine sanctuaries with no take are a boon for fisheries and ecosystems at a time when fish populations are declining. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is home to approximately half the commercially and recreationally fished coral fish trout. These trout caught from 28% of the area’s no-take marine sanctuary.

Fish Abundance

Fish abundance can increase in other areas of the world outside or near marine sanctuaries without being detrimental to fishers. Fisheries may also have a greater economic value than marine sanctuaries.

Recreationally, the best fish caught within highly protect marine sanctuaries. The non-market value of recreational fishing is increasing. Recent research out of Tasmania has shown that high-protected areas can offer resilience to climate change.

What does all of this science mean? Simply put, if you don’t remove fish in a few areas, they will become larger and more abundant. Larger fish tend to have more offspring and push smaller fish out of reserves. These facts create a spill-over effect, which should make recreational and commercial fishermen giddy with excitement. The environment is also more resilient to changes.

To maintain healthy oceans, effective fisheries management is crucial. Highly protected marine sanctuaries that are no-take and non-take help.

Fish Also Hurt By Recreational Fishing

The announcement by the federal government mirrors a disturbing trend that overlooks the effects of recreational fishing. As a part of global catch, recreational fishing is large and growing. It can also be difficult to understand the total fish mortality.

This can seen in some Australian fish. Both dhufish (and herring) are overexploit in Western Australia. Recreational fishing accounts for approximately half of all fishing deaths.

Mulloway is an important recreational fish in NSW. It is currently listed as overfished with recreationally targeted eastern blue groper and pink snapper, flatheads and morwongs being either uncertain, fully fished or overfished. These species were not considered healthy by the NSW government when they allowed beach fishermen back into their state marine sanctuaries earlier in the year.

It is wrong to romanticize recreational fishing as just a hobbyist with little effect on the fish. This view overlooks the dramatic rise in fishing power due to improved recreational fishing technology, increased recreational boat sizes, as well as human population growth. These trends are recognized by many recreational fishermen.

A Chance To Create Better Marine Parks

Federal government called the prior regulation of marine parks a lockout on recreational fishermen from large areas of ocean. This is misleading.

Under the then-defunct commonwealth management plan and current state plans, 96% of Australia’s marine environment was open for fishing within 100km of our coast. 13.6% of the overall waters that were protected provided a high level, but they were mostly offshore and not accessible to fishers.

Marine wildlife is less protected at the state level. For example, less than 5 percent of WA State waters and 7 percent of NSW State waters offer high levels of protection. These results are far below international standards of protection.

Herein lies the chance. The government stated that they are protecting marine reserves, but rejected the flawed plans.

We have shown that there is a lot of scientific evidence supporting the use of marine sanctuaries as no-take fisheries and conservation sanctuaries. The government must now accept the science and make new plans based on scientific guidelines to achieve its goal.

The area designated as marine sanctuaries should be increased under the new management plans that will be published by July 2013. These areas also need to be representative of the diversity of our oceans rather than being out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind.

As pressure continues to mount on Australia’s oceans, the government cannot pander to special interests. Science is clear: Conservation benefits are derived from full protection, not partial protection.

Australia has an incredible opportunity to protect its marine biodiversity and make a significant contribution to the resilience and health of the oceans around the world. We are looking forward to the government supporting the science behind marine sanctuaries, and creating a truly international network of marine reserves that is highly representative and protected.