Letter to the Editor: Additional Comment on Australia's Proposed South-west MPAs

MPA News

Dear MPA News,

In response to the letter from Jeff Moore of the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association ("Well-managed trawl fishery would be disproportionately impacted by SW Australian MPAs", MPA News 13:1):

Mr. Moore argues that the commercial fishing sector will be disproportionately impacted by the Australian Government's proposed network of marine reserves in the 1.4 million-km2 South-west marine region, while the oil and gas industry is left largely unaffected. We share his concerns about the quarantining of oil and gas. However, we also note with concern that in its recent submission on the Australian Government's proposal for the South-west marine reserve network, the commercial fishing industry agreed the draft plan "endeavors to recognize the needs of other marine resource users such as ... oil and gas" and proposed no further restrictions on that sector (http://tinyurl.com/SW-fishing-industry).

Mr. Moore also makes the point that much of the South-west region is "largely prospective", untouched by the fishing industry. Frankly, this is because much of it is unable to support economically viable fisheries, not because of the environmental benevolence of the commercial fishing industry. We note that within the large area proposed by the Australian Government for the South-west corner to become a marine sanctuary, the last major economically viable trawl fishery there was for the orange roughy, now listed under Australia's federal environmental laws as "conservation dependent". The Australian Government's marine reserve network proposal does a good job of protecting areas that have had little current or historical interest to the recreational or commercial fishing or mining industries. The commercial fishing sector's campaign to maintain access to areas it has never used, in case it wishes to do so in the future, is concerning. Australia should not follow the world in a fishery resource exploitation model that chases ever-smaller and more vulnerable novel fisheries to the limits of its EEZ in order to prop up catches. Instead, we should focus on rebuilding the fisheries we have already exploited.

While trawling covers relatively little spatial extent of Australian waters, this is due to the relatively low productivity of those waters, and their limited ability to support extensive trawl fisheries. Those areas that are capable of supporting such fisheries are fully exploited. Furthermore, the Australian Government draft plan for the South-west marine region does not significantly reduce access to trawl fisheries in areas that are considered important trawling grounds.

Mr. Moore emphasizes the complex and restrictive fishery management measures in place in the Great Australian Bight trawl fishery. These measures are intended to manage the trawl fishery. The network of marine reserves in the South-west marine region proposed by the Australian Government is intended to manage and conserve biodiversity. Australia and other countries around the world are moving toward a new system of marine resource management that includes spatial management for conservation objectives. In this new era, fishing interests will no longer have unfettered access to areas that are most productive for them, as the same areas often have the highest conservation values. Compensation will be available to the commercial industry.

While conservation of biodiversity is the primary goal of Australia's National Representative Network of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), a network of fully protected marine sanctuaries throughout the South-west marine region will also deliver benefits to fisheries management. Highly protected marine sanctuaries will provide cost-effective reference areas for ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM) in an environment where fisheries are typically small (and therefore generate relatively little revenue for EBFM research) and data-poor. The Western Rock Lobster fishery, Australia's best understood and most valuable single species fishery, has been proven unable to adequately assess the ecosystem impacts of the fishery without the use of closed areas in this manner. We expect that management of any other fishery in the South-west marine region (all of which are much smaller) would benefit from marine sanctuaries in a similar manner, given that EBFM and/or environmental sustainability is a goal for all Western Australian, South Australian, and Commonwealth managed fisheries.

The commercial fishing industry submission says they will "be working with Government to achieve balanced outcomes for biodiversity conservation." Their proposal calls for there to be no highly protected no-take areas in the shelf waters of the western part of the South-west marine region (a coastline of more than 700 km). This cannot be claimed to represent a balanced outcome.

In August, the Australian Marine Science Association, the Australian Coral Reef Society, and more than 220 leading scientists from around the world released a statement of concern* about the lack of protection and scientific foundation in the Australian Government's reserves proposal. The concerns cited included no high-level protection proposed for three of the seven marine bioregions on the continental shelf, and overall less than 3.5% of the shelf proposed for high-level protection.

The science community is clear on this matter: networks of protected areas, with large fully protected zones, are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems over the long term, complemented by responsible fisheries management. They are urging the Australian Government to act on their concerns by significantly increasing the level and extent of protection. As is the general community as evidenced by the 42,000 submissions in support of large marine sanctuaries in Australia's South-west marine region, a record-breaking level of support for any Australian government environment process.

Piers Verstegen
Director, Conservation Council of Western Australia Inc. E-mail: piers.verstegen [at] conservationwa.asn.au

Tim Kelly
Chief Executive, Conservation Council of South Australia Inc. E-mail: tim.kelly [at] conservationsa.org.au

* "Developing Australia's national system of marine reserves: A statement of concern about the proposal for Australia's South West Marine Region". August 2011. http://bit.ly/SouthWestStatement


BOX: Australia releases draft bioregional plans and MPA networks for two more regions

The Australian Government has released draft bioregional plans and proposed marine reserve networks for its North and North-west regions. The 10 proposed MPAs in the North-west region cover an area of 377,297 km2; the eight proposed sites in the North cover 121,723 km2. The draft plans and proposed networks are open for public comment until 28 November 2011.

Like the proposed MPA network for the South-west region that was released earlier this year ("Australia Announces Plan for Large Network of MPAs Off SW Coast", MPA News 12:6), extractive activity would be allowed in most of the waters included in the MPA networks for the North and North-west. As laid out, the new MPAs comprise three types of zones:

  • Marine National Park zones: excluding all commercial activities and extractive recreational activities, except for vessel passage and non-extractive tourism.
  • Multiple Use zones: allowing a range of existing activities to continue while excluding activities that carry a high risk to the conservation values of the MPAs.
  • Special Purpose zones: allowing a wider range of commercial activities than in the multiple-use zones.

Information on the marine bioregional planning process in general and the proposed marine reserve networks is at www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/index.html.