A 'step backwards' for marine conservation?
MARINE researchers have been left disappointed following the State Government's controversial move to legalise recreational fishing in the area by downgrading protection for parts of the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
The marine park is one of four affected by zoning changes, with protection of Bare Bluff to Diggers Point and Moonee Beach downgraded from sanctuary zoning which prohibits all activities potentially harming animals, plants or habitats.
Overall, the 87km of sanctuary zone located along the NSW coast has been cut down to 43km, with 10 beach and headland sites rezoned to make shore-based recreational line fishing lawful.
In 2013, the NSW Government declared an amnesty period on recreational fishing at beaches and headlands in sanctuary zones, and blocked a Greens amendment stating sanctuaries can only increase in size.
The period has since lapsed and the zoning changes have now been made official, with the NSW Government developing new management plans for each park.
The director of the National Marine Science Centre, Professor Steve Smith, said the recent announcement was a "step backwards" for marine conservation.
"Anything that reduces marine conservation is a step backwards in my opinion. It's a shame this has happened. We made a rather strong submission around five years ago and our position has not changed. Anything that rolls back marine conservation is something we don't support," he said.
"The decision was made at a political level and it's currently out of our hands. However we're focussing on gathering evidence and data to support objective management of the marine estate with a view to instate adequate conservation measures.
"At the moment the big issue is the uncertainty going forwards. The State Government has changed the way it's approaching the marine estate and we're still unclear what those implications are for conservation in our region.
"We're getting an increased threat through changed land use practices and we have seen very obvious results through water quality studies. Everyone is eager to be involved and provide evidence, but it's unclear now what the process will be."
Professor Smith said the Marine Park Advisory Committee, of which he is a member, would soon hold a meeting to discuss the government's plans.
NSW Department of Primary Industries deputy director general of fisheries Dr Geoff Allan said the decision followed assessments by the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel.
"Approximately one million people in NSW go out fishing at least once a year. It is a fun activity for the entire family and supports regional communities," he said.
"In providing their advice, the independent Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel used a threat-and-risk-based approach to assess a range of factors relating to the impacts of recreational line fishing on ocean beaches and headlands, as well as consideration of the social values recreational fishing provides to the community."
READER POLL: Do you support the NSW Government's decision to rezone marine parks to allow for recreational fishing? First 500 votes.
YES - 30%
UNDECIDED - 1%
NO - 68%
*Results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate in the online poll.