Victoria created 13 Marine National Parks and 11 Marine Sanctuaries in 2002 (bi-partisan support of both major political parties) conserving significant marine habitats and offering an insurance policy against environmental impacts.
They cover only 5.3 per cent of Victoria’s marine environment.
The integrity of these Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is now threatened by moves from VRfish, representing some recreational anglers who wish to open up these “no take” areas to fishing. (I gather they have become emboldened by successful attempts in NSW.)
Research around the world and anecdotal evidence from local fishermen actually suggests that MPAs serve to enhance fishing values (size and quantity of catches) while providing resilience for fish stocks throughout their distribution.
Rationally, VRfish should be calling for an increase in the number and size of marine national parks rather than reducing the already minimal 5.3 per cent of marine environment they are excluded from.
These small MPAs cannot possibly serve their purposes if fishing is allowed to occur within their boundaries.
The larger, breeding size animals targeted by fishers are the very one’s especially needed to be conserved. ‘Catch and release’ methodology is problematical with many species and realistically most fish are targeted for the table!
The principal purpose of marine national parks is to protect marine biodiversity, but there are potential secondary benefits for fisheries management, marine research, tourism and education.
Marine national parks provide the following benefits:
• They repair ecological damage and restore ecosystem health.
• They build resilience into ecosystems so that they can better cope with the impacts of climate change.
• They protect marine biodiversity.
• They protect rare and threatened species.
• They can help maintain or increase fish stocks.
• They protect habitats, including nursery areas such as seagrasses.
• They serve as ecosystem control areas that can be compared with other non-protected areas.
There is widespread public recognition of and support for marine national parks in Victoria.
Government surveys have shown more than 90 per cent of Victorians support marine national parks.
Other research demonstrated in 2009 that 64 per cent of Victorians support an increase in the size of our marine national park network. More recently, 80 per cent of respondents to a Weekly Times poll in July 2010 supported new marine parks for Victoria. I’m sure they expected such areas to be fully protected.
Climate change is likely to have profound impacts on the marine environment, and so we need to ensure that this environment is resilient enough to survive in a changing climate.
Rising sea levels, storm surges, increasing ocean temperatures and growing ocean acidity are just some of the many pressures climate change will place on our fragile marine world.
Recreational fishing does have an environmental impact larger than many expect.
The total recreational catch is equal to or greater than the total commercial catch for popular species such as snapper, flathead and King George Whiting.
Recreational fishing has a number of other actual or potential impacts that add to the pressure of coastal use. These include mortality of released animals, retention of undersized fish, lost gear, habitat damage, hydrocarbon release by outboard motors, marine litter, the impacts of fish removals on the wider ecosystem and the transfer of pests and diseases.
I fish regularly and also visit our magnificent Bunurong Marine National Park all through the year with locals, visiting families and school groups who marvel at the wonderfully rich biodiversity present along our coast.
A highlight of the Great Victoria Fish Count this year held within the park was sighting a Blue Groper.
A fully protected species we would hope to see in greater numbers in coming years. Although clearly it should not be targeted by anglers it would likely become a casualty.
I urge you to make your feelings known to your members of parliament, VRfish and to all who fish that Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries are a ‘win-win’ for both the environment and fishers but only as long as they remain fully protected.
Marine Protected Areas must remain just that!
Rod Webster, Inverloch.