Bill McCormick, Science,
Technology, Environment and Resources
The management arrangements for the Commonwealth Marine Reserve Networks have been reviewed. New management plans are due in coming years.
The question remains as to the level of resource exploitation that will be permitted in these reserves.
Australia has the third largest marine jurisdiction
in the world, with an Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ) covering 8.2 million square
kilometres (km2). These
oceans are home to 11
per cent of the world’s known
marine species, and support over 5,000 species of fish, and about 30 per cent
of the world’s sharks and rays. The economic and
conservation value of these waters is considerable, as they contain valuable oil
and gas fields and fisheries, as well as significant environmental assets such
as the coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, kelp
forests and rocky
reefs that are home to a diverse range of marine
plants and animals.
It is essential that economic activity in the
oceans can proceed while at the same ensuring that important marine ecosystems
are protected from potential damage. For this reason, economic activity is
regulated to minimise adverse impacts over much of the EEZ. A key regulatory
tool is the declaration of marine reserves, which delineate marine areas of
high conservation value where certain economic activities may be restricted. Such
restrictions on fishing became an issue in the 2013 election. This led to a review of the recently proclaimed marine reserves (the Marine Reserves Review).
Marine reserves may be declared in coastal waters by the
relevant state or the Northern Territory. In Commonwealth marine areas (generally
from three to 200 nautical miles from the coast) the Commonwealth may proclaim
reserves under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
1999 (EPBC Act).
The first Commonwealth marine reserve to be proclaimed
was a section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
(GBRMP) in 1979. Other Commonwealth marine reserves have been declared on an ad
hoc basis over the years. In 1998, the Commonwealth, state and Northern
Territory governments committed to establishing the National
Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012 as a comprehensive,
adequate and representative system of marine reserves.
The Regional Marine Planning process was used to
develop a system of Commonwealth marine reserves. The first plan to be developed
was the South-east
Regional Marine Plan in 2003, with the South-east
Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network established
in 2007. Over the next five years Marine
Bioregional Plans and associated Commonwealth
Marine Reserve Networks were developed for other regions.
After consulting marine and tourism businesses,
environmental groups and the community, in November 2012 the Government
proclaimed new reserve networks for the North-west, North, Temperate
East and South-west Marine Regions, as well as the Coral
Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve (see Figure 1).
Most existing marine reserves were incorporated into these networks. There are
now 58 reserves in these networks, covering 2,745 million km2, plus
the 344,400 km2 GBRMP and the 71,200 km2 Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve.
Commonwealth marine reserves are assigned one or
- Sanctuary zone
- Marine National Park zone
- Habitat Protection zone
- Recreational Use zone
- Conservation Park zone
- Special Purpose zone and
- Multiple Use zone.
These zones must be managed in accordance with the Australian
IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] management principles.
Management plans outline what activities are permitted in each of the zones in
For example, the South-east Commonwealth Marine
Reserves Network Management
came into operation on 1 July 2013. Under the plan, petroleum
exploration and production are only permitted in certain zones (Special Purpose
and Multiple Use) and then only with a permit from the Director of National
Parks. Fishing using bottom-trawling methods is not permitted in the marine
reserves. However, other types of commercial fishing may proceed in Habitat
Protection and Multiple Use zones if permitted by the Director of National
Parks. Recreational fishing is permitted in all zones except for the Sanctuary
and Marine National Park zones.
Management plans for the other networks and the
Coral Sea reserve were scheduled to come into effect in July 2014. However, in
response to concerns by commercial and recreational fishing groups about the loss
of access to significant areas of the oceans, the incoming Coalition Government
implemented its 2013 fisheries
policy to suspend and review the management plans for the reserves. The management
plans for the other networks and the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve were
invalidated when these marine reserves were revoked and ‘reproclaimed’
in December 2013. The marine reserves are still in place, but with no
management plans in place for these reserves, the previous management arrangements were continued, pending the outcomes of the Marine Reserves
Input to the review involved 13,124 submissions, 1,859
responses to an online survey and over 260 meetings and forums around Australia.
were reportedly put forward by the review panel to allow commercial fishing in
areas of the reserves where fishing had been banned under the suspended management
The report of the review was given
to the Minister for the Environment in December 2015, but has not yet been made
public. The Government response to the report will be released later in 2016
and new management plans will then be prepared.
of Australian fisheries and aquaculture production
in 2013–14 was $2.5 billion, of which $1.5 billion came from the wild-catch
sector of state, territory and Commonwealth fisheries. In that year, 3,594 people were employed in fishing
enterprises and 5,111 in aquaculture. Recreational fishing
is also significant, with 3.5
million people fishing annually. Eighty per cent of the recreational
catch comes from estuaries, off beaches and in the ocean.
Under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement,
coastal waters are managed by state and Northern Territory fisheries agencies. The
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) manages Commonwealth
fisheries that include deepwater or migratory
species within the Australian
Fishing Zone. These fisheries bodies set
harvest strategies to maintain fish stocks at ecologically sustainable levels
and aim to reduce bycatch to minimise impacts on the marine environment. For
example, from 1 May 2017, all vessels in the South
East Trawl sector and the Great Australian Bight Trawl sector will have to
use seabird mitigation devices such as a ‘bird
baffler’ to deter seabirds from foraging around the fishing vessels.
Figure 1: Commonwealth Marine Reserves
Source: Parliamentary Library
All export and all Commonwealth fisheries must be assessed and approved under the EPBC
Act to ensure that these fisheries are managed in an ecologically
sustainable manner and export approval can be granted. When
fish products sourced from specific Commonwealth, state and territory fisheries
are destined for export, these fisheries need to be assessed
for their environmental performance before
export approval can be granted under the EPBC Act. Over 140 fisheries
have been approved for export.
The impact on the fishing industry of the new
management arrangements for the marine reserves, as declared in 2012, resulted
in a proposed Fisheries Adjustment Assistance Package worth around $100 million. After the Marine Reserves Review and the
introduction of the revised management plans, it appears there will be a far
smaller impact on the commercial fishing industry than under the management
plans that were set aside. The Commonwealth has allocated less than half this
amount for fisheries adjustment assistance over
the next four years.
Significant offshore petroleum production started
in Australia after ESSO/BHP Billiton discovered the first offshore gas and oil
fields in Bass Strait in the 1960s. At present, production is occurring in
waters off Victoria and Western Australia. As well as production licences,
there are retention
leases and exploration
permits in waters off every state and the Northern
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and
Environmental Management Authority regulates all
offshore petroleum facilities in Commonwealth waters in relation to health and
safety, structural integrity and environmental management.
Unlike with commercial fisheries, petroleum licences that already
exist at the time a marine reserve is declared, continue in operation
irrespective of the zoning and management plans.
Since the management plans for the new marine
reserves have been invalidated, the Commonwealth has issued petroleum
exploration permits in some of these reserves with the approval of the Director
of National Parks. In addition to permits granted in Multiple Use and Special
Purpose zones, one permit was granted that overlaps
the Habitat Protection Zone of the Gascoyne and
Carnarvon Commonwealth Marine Reserves. Such a permit could not have been
granted if the proposed management plan had been in place.
Public concerns about the potential impacts of
petroleum exploration in the Great Australian Bight (GAB) on critical marine
habitat due to seismic activity and deep water drilling led to the
establishment in February 2016 of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment
and Communications Inquiry into Oil
or Gas Production in the Great Australian Bight.
The inquiry lapsed with the dissolution of the Senate on 9 May 2016. There are
11 petroleum titles that have been granted in the GAB which overlap Multiple
Use and Special Purpose zones of the GAB and the Western
Eyre marine reserves.
Climate change and marine reserves
reserves are essential to protect ecosystems, but
are not always able to prevent habitat loss due to issues that cannot be directly
managed, such as climate change. For example, recent research indicates that the range of the kelp forests of Western Australia
has contracted south by 100 km due to several years of heatwaves which started
in 2011. This will potentially adversely
affect the important lobster and abalone fisheries
along the coast.
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), ‘Activities within Commonwealth Marine Reserves’, 26 November 2015.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), ‘Ecological risk management strategies for Commonwealth commercial fisheries’, AFMA website.
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