Fishermen in the deep end over misleading claims

Posted by Emma Gates

Glen Cowans Swallowtail fish at Rottnest 1 DSC_1789_0.jpg

Image courtesy of Glen Cowan

Emma Gates is a volunteer for Save Our Marine Life, she also writes about sustainability and conservation on her blog Sea Change:

The recently announced Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network has been met with furious indignation from the commercial fishing industry; however, these claims of doom and destruction are a far cry from the reality of the Federal Environment Departments predicted impact.

Official analysis by the Marine Division of the Federal Environment Department has found that theworld’s largest network of marine sanctuaries will cost the fishing industry no more than $30 million, $3.97 billion less than some fishing groups have claimed. The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS; see it here) also found that around 103 jobs are likely to be affected, largely in areas where fishing is located in some of the most important areas for our marine life. This is 35,897 less than some fishing groups have claimed.

In South West Australia, claims by commercial fishing of financial losses as high as 35% of current business operations have also been exposed as misleading – the official analysis found that the impact of marine parks on the value of the whole of WA’s fishing catch to be 0.7%.

 “Looking at the claims made by people in the fishing industry and comparing them to the official data it is clear that the industry has been seriously overstating the impacts of new marine sanctuaries,” Said Tim Nicol, Marine Coordinator of CCWA.

“With such little impact and so much beneficial evidence, the industry should welcome this major contribution to the sustainable management of our oceans.”

The fishing industry’s false claims of financial doom are irresponsible.

Marine sanctuaries willhelp restore threatened and overfished stocks and protect our unique, vulnerable marine life. They have been scientifically proven to encourage growth and recovery for fish stocks: benefits which can disperse into areas that are managed for sustainable fishing. A network of marine reserves may support greater levels of productivity within ecosystems, benefitting fish stocks. The network will also act like an ‘insurance policy’ for fisheries management, supporting the long-term sustainable use of the marine environment for the Australian community.

Commonwealth and State marine parks will mean we have a viable and sustainable economic future for the fishing industry, if they start managing our resources properly.

And this is an issue which certainly needs addressing. The Australian fishing industry has declined by a third over the past decade, representing $60m in lost production each year. Much of this decline can be attributed to overfishing and mismanagement, though the industry claims it ranks among the best managed in the world. If that is so, the figures are depressing: 18% of Australia’s fish stocks are overfished or subject to overfishing; for a further 42% there isn’t enough information to tell the status. Once considered Australia’s best managed fishery, the Western Rock Lobster fishery declined by half due to recruitment failure of unknown cause, and has not yet recovered. By-catch issues continue in the trawl and gillnet fisheries: more than 50 dolphins and a number of other protected species die every year in the Pilbara Trawl. Hundreds of endangered Australian Sea Lions, dolphins and other wildlife are killed in gillnets each year.

Consumer demand and desire for cheap seafood is continually increasing. As a result, Australia currently imports 72 per cent of its fish and shellfish. Seafood production in Australia won’t be able to grow until the industry addresses its problems, enticing consumers back with a better reputation.

Healthy ocean management means having marine sanctuaries and sustainable fisheries. The new national marine park network is a great start to addressing one of those problems, and has 70% of Australians’ approval, see the national poll here.

Instead of using these world-leading conservation efforts as a scapegoat for their long-term fishing problems, the fishing industry needs to engage in an honest discussion about the future of Australia’s oceans and avoid making further unsubstantiated claims.