Shark no-go zones
By CRAIG McTEAR
GEOFF Blackburn wants a balance struck between protecting grey nurse sharks and protecting the livelihoods of commercial fishers.
The Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-operative vice-chairman said the commercial fishing industry supported the State and Federal governments in the push to protect grey nurse sharks.
He said the industry would work with both levels of government to ensure the lowest possible impact of any measures on fishers.
Mr Blackburn was responding to an announcement by Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, that the State Government must close down fishing in the grey nurse shark habitats of Manta Arch and the Steps/Anemone Bay in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, and at Fish Rock and Green Island off South West Rocks, by May.
Mr Garrett said he was concerned about the level of protection for grey nurse sharks in these areas.
An extension until June 30 of export approval for the NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery is conditional upon these closures.
Mr Blackburn acknowledged some fishing methods were 'high risk' for grey nurse sharks, but they had been removed from the habitat areas.
The focus now was on low-risk methods.
He said there was already protection in the Solitary Islands Marine Park for grey nurse sharks.
He hoped fishers would be able to renegotiate fishing boundaries once a review of the park's zones was completed.
"We want the least impact on commercial fishers as possible," he said.
Mr Garrett said his decision was in the best interests of improving the ecological sustainability of the ocean trap and line fishery and increasing protection for grey nurse sharks.
The Nature Conservation Council welcomed the Minister's comments, but remained disappointed at 'another delay' in creating marine sanctuaries to protect the shark.
"With fewer than 500 grey nurse sharks still living off the coast of NSW, every death, especially of females, has a big impact on the chances of the sharks' survival," the council's marine conservation officer, Giselle Firme, said.