An amnesty which allowed illegal fishing within marine park sanctuary zones was meant to run for six months but has continued since March 2013, Melinda McMillan reports in the Newcastle Herald.
Sanctuaries were to have special protection as no-take zones within marine parks.
The amnesty, introduced by the O’Farrell government, allowed for recreational line fishing at mainland ocean beaches and headlands within the zones.
The introduction of the amnesty was a move scientists claimed undermined the conservation objectives of the parks.
It was to be reviewed by the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel by September 2013. However, a decision has still not been announced. The Nature Conservation Council is calling on Premier Mike Baird to bring an end to the government’s ‘‘turning a blind eye approach’’and reinstate the fishing ban.
Campaign director Daisy Barham said sanctuary zones were essential for marine life protection.
She said any level of fishing within sanctuary zones had an impact on ‘‘fish life.’’
‘‘The big fish breed the most…even taking out a small number of big fish will have a big impact,’’ she said.
She pointed to a survey conducted by the Marine Estate Management Authority which showed marine parks had strong support in the Hunter with 73per cent of respondents saying they were in favour of the parks, which was above a state average of 65per cent.
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Dive instructor Richard Nicholls teaches dive courses at Fly Point, which is located within a sanctuary zone at the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park.
He said since 2013 he had observed at least a 50per cent decline in fish stock.
‘‘There has definitely been a reduction in large, table-sized fish,’’ he said.
However, the recreational fishing group ECOfishers argues the ban should be extended indefinitely.
‘‘Throwing a line off the rocks or beaches has no effect on the marine environment,’’ chairman Chris Wallis said.
He described the sanctuary zones as ‘‘lines on a map’’ drawn up without any scientific rigour.
‘‘None of the zones were put in place as a result of science,’’ he said.
Australian Marine Alliance CEO Dean Logan shares the same skepticisim about the sanctuary zones.
‘‘In almost every instance [the creation of the zones] have not been preceded by the necessary and appropriate risk assessment,’’ Mr Logan said.
‘‘The suite of threats to the conservation of the marine environment have not been adequately identified and management prioritised in proportion to the magnitude of the threat.’’
He said no-take zones did little to address real threats to the marine environment such as nutrient run-off, coastal development and global warming.
However, the Nature Conservation Council said there was plenty of hard scientific evidence to support the success of sanctuary zones.
‘‘Peer reviewed scientific research in Batemans Bay showed in the first five years [after the establishment of a marine park] there were 38per cent more fish in the sanctuary zone compared to areas outside,’’ Ms Barham said.
She said other research conducted on marine parks in Moreton Bay, and Coffs Harbour showed similar findings.
In January 220 marine scientists wrote an open letter to the premier calling for the reinstatement of sanctuary zones and urging the government to work with the marine science community to establish a research program to support evidence based decisions around marine conservation planning.
About 17 per cent of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park is zoned as sanctuary.
A spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries has told the Newcastle Herald it would make an announcement before the end of the year.