The Federal Government has released draft plans to establish a world-class management program across 44 marine parks.
Building on the recommendations of an independent expert scientific panel that received more than 13,000 submissions, the draft plans reflect a balanced, evidence-based approach.
The goal is to promote the highest standards of protection for our reefs, canyons and precious marine life, while also allowing for fishing, boating, diving, snorkelling and other related tourism activities where appropriate.
Recreational fishers will have access to 97% of waters within 100km of the coast and 80 per cent of the marine park network overall — up from 64% previously.
The draft plans have also won plaudits from the commercial fishing industry with the WA Fishing Industry Council saying they were “heartened” by the plans and Tuna Australia praising the Turnbull Government for “listening and working with key stakeholders”.
Australia’s commercial fishing industry is worth over $1 billion per annum with the livelihoods of many coastal communities depending on its viability, not to mention that where possible the preference for consumers is always to Buy Australian.
By adopting a science-based approach, the draft plans allocate 20% of the marine parks to green zones where no fishing is allowed, enabling the fish to spawn and feed.
At the same time, the number of yellow zones under these plans has doubled. This ensures that features on the ocean floor are protected from disturbance, but fishing in the water column in accordance with strict Australian Fisheries Management Authority regulations are allowed.
In terms of the conservation benefits of these draft plans, there is a very positive story to tell. The number of ecological features covered by habitat protection zones that protect the sea floor are increased from 192 to 265, almost 40%, and there is an increase from 60 to 63% of the areas where oil and gas extraction is prohibited.
While extensive consultation has gone into preparing these plans with key stakeholders, including local indigenous landowners, it is clear not every stakeholder can ever be fully satisfied.
But overall what has been achieved is a balanced, scientifically evidence-based package which seeks to manage Australia’s important conservation, economic and cultural interests.