Fishers livelihoods under threat

PROFESSIONAL fishers have formed a united front to protect their livelihoods following the release of a radical Federal Government draft plan to realign marine reserves off the East Coast.

The map released by Environment Minister Peter Garrett shows a large stretch of Commonwealth water between Bateman’s Bay and the Queensland border being assessed as a conservation zone.

If the extreme of ‘zero take’ fishing sanctuary zones are enacted, Coffs Harbour’s $15 million seafood industry would be decimated and local supplies would all but dry up.

“It is totally devastating the size and scope of the waters being assessed, we just hope commonsense prevails and equitable access is given to professional fishers to fishing grounds in these waters,” said Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op spokesman Geoff Blackburn.

“We welcome conservation but the right conservation can only be achieved once the sea floor and fish stocks are mapped and quantified.”

Mr Garrett’s announcement has heightened concern that trawlers and fish netting could be banned or scaled back dramatically in 16,000 hectares of deep sea fishing grounds, outside the Solitary Marine Park, which are prime king prawn fishing grounds.

The conservation zones being assessed on the map, incorporate the local Solitary Islands reserves and the mouth of the Clarence River, increasing fears that changes will be made to commercial and recreational fishing boundaries.

However, the anglers’ lobby continues to have a prominent seat at the negotiating table.

Meeting with his fellow Coffs Co-op board members yesterday, Mr Blackburn was quick to shoot down the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, which he said held a simplistic view on conservation ‘of lock it up or lose it’. The conservation council’s marine campaigner Ben Birt said the announcement is a positive step towards a network of marine areas protected from fishing.

“At a time when our oceans are under pressure, it’s excellent to see the Federal Government recognising the importance of existing State marine parks by linking them with the area for further assessment,” Mr Birt said.

“Marine protected areas, particularly no-take areas, are vital havens where our marine like can rest, recover and reproduce safe from the threats of fishing,” he said.

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