As a dive business owner of more than 20 years, my local MP’s recent public commitment to boost protection for the marine environment was music to my ears. My local MP is now the Premier of NSW, but talk is cheap and the state’s reputation for nature-based tourism is at risk if Mike Baird does not now follow through.
The first key test of the Premier’s commitment is whether or not to permanently allow fishing in marine sanctuaries along the NSW coast. Less than 7 per cent of the state’s waters are set aside as sanctuaries for marine life and a $300 million dive industry is built around them. Despite this, the decision is now about eight months overdue.
In March last year, the Primary Industries minister declared a temporary ‘‘amnesty’’ on illegal fishing in sanctuaries. Marine sanctuaries are in place for well-established reasons; however, there was no research behind the amnesty, or even evidence that it would not lead to damage to our sanctuaries. There was no consultation.
Marine sanctuaries are specifically created as ‘‘no-take’’ areas to allow fish and other marine life to recover, and safeguard feeding and breeding spots. There are about a million people licensed to fish recreationally in NSW, as well as numerous commercial fishing businesses, so setting aside some areas is logical and a practical insurance policy.
Behind this logic is also well-established scientific evidence of the benefits of marine sanctuaries. Studies by the CSIRO, and the country’s leading research units at James Cook University, University of Queensland, UTS Sydney, and University of Tasmania have all established the ecological improvements on offer and also the ‘‘spillover’’ benefits of sanctuaries, which means bigger and better fish.