New marine reserve proposals

The Commonwealth is proposing the proclamation of 44 new marine reserves covering a total of 2.34 million square kilometres by the end of the year. The move has drawn criticism from fisheries bodies for excluding fishing in substantial areas of the ocean; at the other end of the spectrum, some conservation bodies were disappointed that the government had not banned oil and gas exploration in areas adjacent to existing marine parks.

The proposal for 44 new reserves was released on 14 June 2012 as part of the Marine Bioregional planning exercise. This exercise covered five Marine Regions (South-west, North-west, North, and East (Temperate East) and Coral Sea). The proposed marine reserves contain various different zones. Activities are permitted or restricted according to the zone and the Marine Region in which it lies, but differ between Marine Regions. For example, demersal trawling is permitted in the Special Purpose zones of marine reserves in the Temperate East Marine Region but not in Special Purpose zones of marine reserves in the South-west Marine Region. The zone with the highest protection for environmental assets is termed the Marine National Park Zone, which prohibits extractive activities such as commercial and recreational fishing, as well as oil and gas exploration.

Within the nearly 2.4 million square kilometres of these reserves, more than 860,000 square kilometres are classified as Marine National Park Zones, in which all commercial and recreational fishing is banned.

Marine Region – new reserves
Area of final Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network Proposal (square kilometres)
Area of Marine National Park Zones in final Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network Proposal (square kilometres)
South West – 14 reserves
North West – 13 reserves
North – 8 reserves
Coral Sea – 1 reserve
Temperate East – 8 reserves
Total – 44 reserves

There will be a formal process for the proclamation of these marine reserves under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This process allows 60 days for public comment, and it is expected that the reserves will be proclaimed by the end of the year. Minister Burke said that the public consultation is not about the location of the boundaries of the reserves, or of the zones within the reserves, but rather to say whether or not Australia should proclaim the marine reserves at all.

As the Minister put it: "We now go through one final 60 day consultation period. It's too late for people to say I want this line shifted or I want this zone painted a different colour. The question now is very straight forward. Do we go ahead with the most comprehensive marine park network in the world or do we not?"

This ‘all or none’ restriction appears to be at odds with the spirit of the EPBC Act.

Concerns about the marine reserve network proposal have come from both the conservation and fisheries interests. For example:
  • Don Henry of the ACF noted that oil and gas exploration are to be banned in the Coral Sea but not in the North-west Marine Region. 
  • Bob Pressey, of James Cook University, was critical of the network proposal saying that the reserves should have separated “marine biodiversity from processes that threaten its persistence” but instead “the reserve system had been designed to avoid any marine areas of commercial interest to fishing or petroleum companies.” 
  • Commonwealth Fisheries Association spokesman Brian Jeffriess argued that the price of prawns and shark will rise due to closure of some areas to fishing. Guy Leyland of the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council stated that the industry doesn’t overfish, and therefore wondered what is the point of the reserves. 
  • Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation spokesman, Allan Hansard, and Andrew Rowland, CEO of Recfishwest, are opposed to the declaration of more marine national park zones. Mr Hansard said "The government treats Aussie anglers in the same way it treats industrial-scale commercial fishing and oil and gas developments".
 Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, argued that the new reserves would have little or no impact on recreational fishing. He said “In almost two-thirds of the announced reserve area recreational fishing is unimpeded – even where there are other restrictions.”

As the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network proposal will reduce access by fishers to their present catch, there will need to be a fisheries adjustment assistance package. The socio-economic reports of the predicted impacts of the new reserves on individual fisheries and regions will be released in coming weeks and will be used in the development of assistance in line with the 2011 Fisheries Adjustment Policy. The Commonwealth will negotiate with the fishing industry over details of the package, which will be started by the time the reserves are proclaimed. The compensation will be decided on a case-by-case basis and package measures may include:
  • Transitional business assistance to support changes to fishing business operations
  • Assistance for employees including payments
  • Investment in research and monitoring
  • Removal of commercial fishing effort from impacted fisheries through possible purchase of entitlements
  • Targeted assistance to vertically integrated fishing businesses
 An issue of dispute is the level of the assistance. The Government estimated the impact of the reserves as displacing 1-2 per cent of annual fish catch, giving a likely assistance package of about $100 million. Brian Jeffriess maintained that this figure was not enough; he pointed out that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park structural assistance package was $250 million for a much smaller area than that of the proposed new reserves.

If precedent is followed, it is worth examining two previous structural adjustment packages for the fishing industry: the first following creation of no-take zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004, and the second as a result of the proclamation of the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve network in 2007. According to the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Structural Adjustment package, $213.7 million was provided up to 28 June 2010 to 1782 fishers, seafood processors and upstream providers. This was much greater than the $14-26 million of the 2004 estimates, which were based on the impact of rezoning on fishers but not on upstream and downstream processers. However the review also indicated that only $20 million in assistance went to the fishing industry affected by the South-east Marine Reserve network.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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