Proposed fishing ban across huge swathe of WA’s south coast raises concern

Proposed fishing ban across huge swathe of WA’s south coast raises concern

The Western Australian government has proposed closing a quarter of waters between Bremer Bay and the South Australian border to all fishing under its new south coast marine park plan. 

The proposed park will span 1,000 kilometres of coastline, with the aquatic activities allowed in some areas unchanged, others reduced, and some banned altogether.

The announcement of a 25 per cent sanctuary zone comes after three years of consultation with community groups and users and is aimed at preserving the region’s biodiversity. 

Minister Reece Whitby says the plan balances everyone’s needs.(ABC Esperance: Tara De Landgrafft)

Minister for Environment Reece Whitby said the park’s establishment would also create new opportunities for nature-based tourism and diversification of the economy. 

“I’m very optimistic about this, I think this will be a Marine Park that will rival Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef.”

Minister Whitby said the consultation process had been extensive so far and dismissed concerns that the plan would put commercial fishers out of business.

“It is the job of the state government to reach a practical realistic balance, which balances the needs of commercial fishers, rec fishers, the conservation interests, traditional owners and the tourism industry. So I think we’ve done very well,” he said. 

“I’m going to say very clearly that if there are extra concerns, new information comes forward, we will be prepared to change [the plan] again.

“We will be prepared to accommodate anyone that can point out an issue that we might have overlooked or draw more attention to an issue that we might have not put enough weight on.

The draft marine park plan was originally due to be released in August 2023 and will be open for public comment for four months.

Commercial fishers oppose plan

Manue Daniels has been fishing commercially from Esperance with her family for 15 years. 

She said the consultation process had been long, frustrating and taken a toll on her mental health.

“I think that I’m a tough one, to be honest. But it was really, really hard to see how much this industry is misunderstood and how much, really, we don’t matter.

“The industry here is really, really small. It’s very sustainable, it’s family business. It’s not a corporation. It’s really people that are going to be affected people, their families, the kids.”

Areas of the planned marine park are home to species such as the leafy sea dragon.(Supplied: Karen Milligan)

Several months ago, the Western Australia Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) put forward its marine park proposal, which outlined that anything above 11 per cent allocated to sanctuary zones would severely impact fishing families’ livelihoods.

Ms Daniels said the plan, as it stood, would mean her business would not survive.

“Others won’t be able to as well. [A] 25 per cent sanctuary zone is way too much, especially when you put it in the perspective of all the restrictions that we already have,” she said. 

“We will not be able to survive this.”

Ms Daniles said she still hoped the government would do the right thing. 

“I think it just shows that this government puts no value towards what we do. We are just second-class citizens,” she said.

“I really, really don’t know what we will do. I can’t even bring myself to think because if I do start thinking about this, there’s no point in me getting up in the morning.”

Mixed response from recreational sector

The move has been welcomed by the state’s tourism body, saying the plan would provide new opportunities for nature-based tourism.

However, conservation groups say the measures do not go far enough, and local recreational fishers are still hoping changes will be made before the plan is finalised.

Murray Johnson says he will make a submission to the South Coast Marine Park consultation process.(ABC Esperance: Tara De Landgrafft)

Esperance tackle shop owner Murray Johnson said the plan was a positive step forward. However, it would impact his business negatively.

“There’s certainly areas I don’t think are right or correct and need to be amended,” he said. 

“I think Esperance has a perfect opportunity to look to the future.

“It’s not about science anymore. It’s actually about the economic and social benefits of what we need as people of this town.”

Mr Johnson said he would make a submission to the South Coast Marine Park consultation process.

Native title holders excited to share knowledge

The South Coast Marine Park will be jointly managed by traditional owner groups, including Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation.

Gail Reynolds Adamson says the marine park will conserve the region for the future generations. (ABC Esperance: Tara De Landgrafft)

Its chairperson, Gail Reynolds-Adamson, said it would give traditional owners the opportunity to share knowledge with the wider community and provide jobs for the next generation. 

“We see that this plan is a way of us allowing for future generations to share what we enjoy today.”

“If we don’t start looking at it and creating these marine parks today, we won’t have the same opportunity or our future generations won’t have the same opportunity to enjoy the fishing like we do today.

“It’s not too dissimilar to how Aboriginal people would have managed the land for thousands of years. We’re just formalising this process now with DBCA [Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions].”

“It’s all of our responsibility collectively, as Esperance people, as a nation, to care for country.”

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