Stormy waters for marine park plan

Environment Minister Tony Burke went to the Sydney Aquarium yesterday to announce the world’s largest network of marine reserves. BUt a big battle with the fishing industry looms.THE federal government faces a drawn-out political battle with the fishing industry over new marine reserves.

Fishermen yesterday scorned the government’s talk of a $100 million compensation package.

Just after Environment Minister Tony Burke announced he would set up the world’s largest network of marine reserves, fishermen condemned the move, saying it would push up the price of seafood, damage coastal communities and imperil Australia’s food security.

Click here to see an interactive graphic of the new marine zones.

Conservationists broadly welcomed the announcement, which will cover more than 3 million square kilometres of ocean and limit fishing and mining to varying degrees, though some thought the network did not go far enough.

Mr Burke and the Fisheries Minister, Joe Ludwig, announced they would set up an assistance package ”in the vicinity of” $100 million. ”Those impacted who want to change where they fish, how they fish, and what they fish, will be helped to do so,” he said.

”Those who can change their business model, or who opt to leave the industry, will get the assistance they require.”

But the industry poured scorn on the figure. Brian Jeffriess, of the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, said the government ”were kidding themselves” if it thought that was enough.

Mr Jeffriess said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – a relatively small area compared with that announced yesterday – alone had cost $250 million and rising in adjustment assistance.

While praising Mr Burke’s consultation with the industry, he slammed the fact that the government was announcing the plan without announcing compensation at the same time.

”If you’re sitting there as a small business in a regional area dependent on the fishing industry, what are you supposed to do?” he asked. ”For those who don’t know whether they can stay in business at all, their staff will desert in droves. We’re bitterly disappointed.”

Guy Leyland, of the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council said: ”The big winners out of this will be the importers. The Australian consumer who wants to eat domestic fish will be faced with higher prices.”

The network of reserves will ring Australia and cover about a third of Commonwealth waters, which begin three nautical miles (5.6 kilometres) from the coast and stretch to the edge of Australia’s exclusive economic zone, 200 nautical miles out.

Mr Burke hailed in particular the protection of the Coral Sea, beyond the Great Barrier Reef, and the south-west region, including Perth Canyon, an underwater equivalent of the Grand Canyon.

”It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia today leads that next step,” Mr Burke said. Imogen Zethoven, a Coral Sea campaigner from the Pew Environment Group, said the announcement was a ”historic moment” in protecting the unique tropic waters beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

These are home to sharks, tuna and marlin, as well as healthy coral reefs, atolls, cays, and islands.

The Wilderness Society’s marine campaign manager, Felicity Wishart, said the announcement was a welcome first step, but included ”some major omissions that undermine the effectiveness of the overall system”.

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