Ignore fishers at your peril

December 8, 2023 9:27 AM
Libby Mettam
WA Liberal Leader

There’s another storm brewing for the Cook Labor Government and once again, it’s being fueled by the government’s apparent unwillingness to listen or consult in good faith. 

Much like the anger and frustration surrounding the botched implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, this storm centres on a government that thinks it knows better than industry, community groups and stakeholders and seems intent on pushing an agenda.

While plans to extend the Marmion Marine Park are not yet headline news, there is genuine concern that the way the government is managing the extension, and specifically the addition of more sanctuary zones, will create much the same backlash as the ACH Act debacle.

This is a park off the coast of Perth that has been used by tens of thousands of fishers for generations. 

Conservation plans to extend the boundaries of the marine park, which runs along the coast from Trigg Point up to Two Rocks, have widespread support among stakeholders.

The preservation of this beautiful coastline is in the interest of all Western Australians and it imperative that it is protected for the next generation of surfers, divers, swimmers, boaties and commercial and recreational fishers to enjoy as we today. 

The South Coast Marine Park is also being reviewed with the plan likely to be released next week.

It’s the potential boundaries of the off-limit sanctuary zones within the extended marine park that WA fishers are reeling about. 

There is also increasing angst about the way the government is managing the planning and consultation process, and the lack of rationale for some of the proposed changes.

Peak fishing bodies, such as the Western Rock Lobster Council, Recfishwest, and the WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) are raising the red flag about the government’s seeming disinterest to properly engage or listen to their experience and concerns. 

They believe this process is a box-ticking exercise for a pre-determined outcome that will see sanctuary zones inside the Marmion Marine Park expanded unnecessarily so that fishing, both recreationally and commercially, is further restricted along this coastline. 

The social and economic impacts of which will be significant.

Conflating these issues is the fact the process is being spearheaded by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development as joint planning partner. 

Two dissimilar agencies representing different interests and unsurprisingly, there appears to be little love lost. But with DBCA at the helm of the process, the primary industry groups are feeling very disempowered. 

In a letter sent to DBCA, the three key industry bodies mentioned above, spoke of feeling misrepresented, disrespected and completely ignored by the agency to date. 

“The Co-Signed SAGs have fully committed to the Marmion Marine Park Expansion planning process and engaged with integrity and good-will at all times. Unfortunately, there have been an unacceptably high number of occasions where these values are not being reciprocated by DBCA…”

Despite DBCA saying there were no predetermined targets for total sanctuary zone area within a marine park, stakeholder participants have reported DBCA repeated references to international conservation targets of 30 per cent.

A huge increase to the current sanctuary zones that is seemingly being made without due diligence and no evidence or justification for where the proposed sanctuary zones are located.

Stakeholders believe if DBCA was genuinely interested in a collaboratively planned outcome through the community consultation process, cultural heritage, biodiversity, commercial fishing and appropriate habitat mapping would be done prior to any plan being produced.

But so far, it’s not materialised.  

If you think this is a fringe issue, it’s important to note that Western Australia is home to 53,000 licensed recreational rock lobster license holders, a significant portion of which operate out of the metropolitan region. 

There is legitimate concern the sanctuary zones will cover large swaths of prime cray fishing ground on or inside the Three Mile Reef. 

Recfishwest represents 750,000 recreational fishers throughout the State. Ignore their concerns at your own peril. 

Repeated requests for science-based evidence and justification for how the government is determining these sanctuary zones has so far resulted in nothing more than obfuscations.

When the Opposition raised it in Parliament, the government accused us of being bottom feeders and scaremongering. 

Sound familiar? 

It’s the same script they rolled out for the ACH debate when legitimate concerns were being raised about the overreach of those debaucherous laws. 

The process feels also very similar to the introduction of the six-month demersal fishing ban in the West Coast Bioregion that has had a devastating impact on tackle shop owners, the fishing charter industry and small business and tourism operators along those affected coastal communities. 

The government simply didn’t care and has forged ahead, regardless of the impact. 

If these sanctuary zones in the Marmion Marine Park similarly go above and beyond what is required it will come at a heavy and seemingly unjustified cost that could have unintended consequences, compounding overfishing in other areas and threatening certified sustainable industries that have fished these waters for generations. 

The plans for the Marmion Marine Park extension are expected to be released for public comment next year. 

Let’s hope this early consultation process is not the smokescreen industry fears it is and determinations made by the DBCA are based on their regulatory obligations and science, and not just ideology.

← Back to the media centre
Privacy, Terms & Conditions
4 Harvest Terrace
West Perth WA 6005