Commercial and recreational fishing should be banned in nearly one third of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to protect the range of reef and non-reef species and communities, according to a draft zoning plan released by the Australian Government on June 2. The plan, now out for public comment, would designate 111,700 km2 of the 350,000-km2 marine park as off-limits to fishing, effectively creating the world's largest network of no-take marine reserves.
Presently, no-take zones - called "green zones" in the draft plan - account for just 16,000 km2, or 4.6%, of the marine park. The marine park as a whole, including fished and no-take zones, is considered to be the largest marine protected area in the world.
"The Great Barrier Reef is suffering very considerable pressures at the moment from increasing usage by tourists, by fishers, and by the local communities," said David Kemp, Australia's environment minister, announcing the plan. "It is very important that we give the reef proper protection for the future." He said the network of no-take zones, designed to protect representative samples of each of the park's 70 bioregions, would help boost declining fish stocks by protecting crucial breeding grounds. Under the plan, at least one fifth of each bioregion would be covered by multiple green zones where human activity would be limited to research and non-extractive uses, including diving.
Public comments on the draft zoning plan must be received no later than August 4, 2003, by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Following a review of the submissions, GBRMPA will submit a revised zoning plan to the environment minister, who will then introduce enabling legislation to the Australian Parliament. Parliament must approve the legislation for this re-zoning to occur.
Immediate reaction to the draft zoning plan was mixed among stakeholders, with commercial and recreational fishermen voicing negative reviews. (Because the draft plan was released as MPA News approached deadline, the newsletter did not have time to interview individuals for their responses to the proposal. MPA News will provide additional coverage in its July 2003 issue.) Leaders of fishing organizations, including the Queensland Seafood Industry Association and Sunfish Queensland, told local Australian media the re-zoning would threaten commercial operators and close off several of the best recreational fishing sites. Some conservation organizations, saying they had hoped for larger areas to be set aside as no-take, voiced qualified support for the draft plan. They called for additional measures to be adopted by government to deal with other threats to the reef, like agricultural runoff and climate change.
GBRMPA officials believe they will be able to meet their enforcement responsibilities in the expanded system of no-take zones within budget. The park authority has been aggressive in pursuing and prosecuting illegal fishing incidents in recent years. A partial list of fines assessed this year to individuals caught fishing in the park's green zones is available online at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/info_services/media/recent_releases.html.
The maximum fine for using or entering a no-take zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for the purpose of fishing is AU$220,000 (US$147,000) for individuals and AU$1.1 million (US$733,000) for companies (MPA News 4:4). In 2002, the highest fine handed down for illegal fishing activity in the marine park was AU$27,500 (US$18,300).
For more information:
Jon Day, Director, Conservation (j.day [at] gbrmpa.gov.au), or Leanne Fernandes, Manager, Representative Areas Program, (leannef [at] grbrmpa.gov.au), GBRMPA, PO Box 1379 Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4750 0779.
BOX: Draft zoning plan is online
The draft zoning plan, based on years of public consultation with stakeholders and scientists through GBRMPA's Representative Areas Program, is available online at http://www.reefed.edu.au/rap/index.html. The website features detailed maps showing the proposed no-take zones by region, explanations of the scientific basis for re-zoning, and a submission form for comments.