FEDERAL Environment Minister Peter Garrett contacted the Coffs Coast Advocate yesterday to allay fears that professional fishers and recreational anglers will be locked out of fishing grounds in Commonwealth Waters off Coffs Harbour.
He said anglers need not worry about the Government’s assessment of conservation zones across 2.4 million square kilometres of ocean off the east coast.
Their opinions on marine conservation will be noted during the consultation process, he assured.
“This week’s announcement is not about providing lines on maps as areas where people can’t fish, it’s about the Government obtaining feedback about what areas are considered important for conservation,” Mr Garrett said.
Mr Garrett’s department mapped seven areas for assessment as marine protection zones, including a large stretch of ocean from Bateman’s Bay to the Queensland border and another called ‘Clarence’ stretching from Hat Head to Brooms Head.
Commercial fishermen on the Coffs Coast met to discuss the impact on the local $15 million seafood industry on Thursday.
Prawn trawlers, netters and long liners were outraged by claims made by the NSW Conservation Council that the Federal Government’s review is a step towards the introduction of ‘zero fish take zones’.
Recreational fishing groups have also vowed to lobby Government for a fair, reasonable and effective approach to conserving fish stocks.
“We don’t want people to pre-judge the process,” Mr Garrett said. “The whole consultation process is the foundation for future conservation of our marine environment – it is a planning exercise, not a prescriptive exercise. “Before the government’s draft plan is drawn up (next year), we hope to hear from anyone with an interest in our marine environment through the consultation process. Scientific information will also be collected and we will welcome information on the catches of professional fishers.”
Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker said commercial fishers have every right to be concerned.