Plan for biggest marine park draws fire
Fishermen say it will cost jobs, hike prices; area about the size of India
by Jonathan Pearlman for the Straits Times
SYDNEY – Australia has unveiled plans for the world’s biggest marine park but the move has angered fishermen and raised concerns about rising seafood prices.
The series of 60 reserves will cover more than 3 million sq km and limit fishing and oil and gas exploration in waters around the continent. It will include the Coral Sea, surrounding the World Heritage -listed Great Barrier Reef in the country’s north-east, and provide enhanced protection of threatened species like the green turtle, dugong and blue whale.
Australia’s Environment Minister Tony Burke said he wanted the reserves to set a global benchmark for environmental protection and ensure food security. The reserves cover about a third of Australia’s marine territory – an area about the size of India.
“This is the biggest step forward the globe has ever seen,” he said. “This new network of marine reserves will help ensure that Australia’s diverse marine environment, and the life it supports, remains healthy, productive and resilient for future generations.”
But the move drew an angry response from commercial and sports fishermen, who claimed it would cost jobs and lead to price hikes. The area is home to large catches of tuna and lobster – much of which ends up in Singapore, one of the biggest importers of Australian seafood.
A commercial fishing group, the Gulf of Carpentaria Commercial Fishermen’s Organisation, said Australia had a plentiful supply of fish and would now have to rely on imported seafood.
“I can’t understand it at all and I can’t understand the public wanting to eat imported fish over local fish,” said the group’s chairman Gary Ward. He said the fisheries “are the most sustainable fisheries in the world” .
Singaporeans are big eaters of Australian seafood, especially abalone, rock lobster and scallops. A 2010 official Australian report showed Singapore was the fifth biggest importer. It imported A$44 million (S$56 million) of seafood in 2008, slightly less than Taiwan (A$54 million), but well behind China and Hong Kong combined (A$525 million).
The Australian Marine Alliance, which represents commercial and recreational fishermen, said the plan was “devastating” and would place a heavy burden on coastal communities. It warned the reserves could cost up to 36,000 jobs.
But the Australian Conservation Foundation said the reserves could actually boost fish stocks, pointing to restricted zones in the Great Barrier Reef where marine life has flourished.
“There’s plenty of science around that shows that protecting areas of oceans works,” said spokesman Chris Smyth.
As part of the plan, the government has flagged a A$lOO million compensation package for commercial fishermen. Responding to concerns about the·impact on recreational fishing, Prime Minister Julia Gillard told ABC Radio that “people will still be able to go and take their young son fishing”.
Australia is surrounded by the world’s third -largest ocean territory and has come under heavy international pressure to protect its vulnerable populations of whales, sharks and turtles and its coral reefs. A scathing United Nations report last month warned the Great Barrier Reef’s heritage listing could be restated as “at risk” unless greater care was taken to protect the area, particularly from the gas and mining boom.