MPA Network Is Proposed for SE Australia; Will Be Integrated with National Program to Reduce Fishing Effort

MPA News

The Australian government released a proposal in December 2005 for a MPA network covering 171,000 km2 of Commonwealth waters in the southeast marine region of Australia. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, called the proposed network "the first representative network of deepwater MPAs in the world." As proposed, it would account for 14% of Commonwealth waters in the region - the first to undergo a region-by-region process of establishing a national representative network of MPAs by 2012. The southeast region includes Tasmania, Victoria, eastern South Australia, and far southern New South Wales.

The government has worked with key stakeholder groups over the past three years to develop the southeast network in 11 broad geographic areas of interest, using agreed criteria and best available scientific information (MPA News 5:11, "Mixing Oil and Water, Part II: The Offshore Oil & Gas Industry and MPA Planning"). Each of the 11 geographic areas is represented in the network, now subject to further public consultation. The government plans to have the final MPA boundaries settled by the end of March 2006 and formally designated under the nation's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by the end of 2006.

Of the proposed network, 40% of the total area will be strictly no-take and an additional 40% will be off-limits to commercial fishing (recreational and charter fishing will be prohibited in only the strict no-take area). Maps and descriptions of the candidate sites, as well as the proposal and a related fact sheet, are available online at http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/mpa/southeast/index.html.

Integrated with license buyout program

In addition to the size of the proposed network, which would make it one of the largest representative MPA networks in the world, the proposal is noteworthy for its integration with a new Commonwealth-wide structural adjustment package that seeks to reduce fishing effort in several Australian fisheries. The AU$220-million (US$163-million) Securing Our Fishing Future package, announced by the Australian government in November 2005, aims to address overfishing by downsizing the commercial industry to a more ecologically sustainable scale, namely with buyouts of fishing licenses. Through integration with the southeast MPA process, the adjustment package - which includes other types of aid besides buyouts - will also cover Commonwealth and state licensed fishermen impacted by the creation of MPAs in the region, as well as fishery-related businesses and communities.

The intent of this integration is to give commercial fishermen a fuller picture of their future operating environment, says Leanne Wilks, assistant director of the Marine Protected Areas Taskforce for the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH). "In the southeast region, many of the fisheries targeted for reform would also be impacted by implementation of the MPAs," she says. "The government decided to include MPAs in this package as it did not want the industry facing ongoing uncertainty as first the fisheries management changes were implemented and then the MPA network was finalized at a later date. By running a single adjustment process, fishermen are able to consider the full impact of the MPAs and fisheries reforms in making a decision on whether to remain in or exit the industry and take advantage of the license buyout."

Wilks says the commercial catch that occurs in the proposed MPAs actually represents a "very small percentage" of the total annual commercial catch of the region, and the displaced effort is likely to be minimal. (In other words, the great majority of the region's annual commercial catch occurs in waters outside the proposed network and in the 20% of the network scheduled to remain open to commercial fishing.) "Fisheries in the southeast are facing much larger reductions in catch and effort under the fisheries management reforms," she says. The current public consultation process may identify opportunities to further reduce MPA-related impacts on the fishing industry, she adds.

As the region-by-region process to establish a national MPA network continues in coming years, it is likely that additional buyout programs will be offered in conjunction with them. "Although there is no constitutional or legal requirement for the Australian government to provide compensation to commercial fishers impacted by MPAs, it does have a policy that takes into account the impacts on fishers and fishing-dependent communities of decisions to establish MPAs," says Wilks, referring to the Marine Protected Areas and Displaced Fishing policy, released January 2004 (http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/mpa/displaced-fishing.html). "Any decision on whether adjustment assistance will be provided to fishers as a result of MPAs will be made on a case-by-case basis."

For more information

Leanne Wilks, Department of the Environment and Heritage, GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia. E-mail: Leanne.Wilks [at] deh.gov.au