Keith Douglas from the Marine Action Group is livid. The recent 60 Minutes segment which ran under the deceptively benign tagline 'Troubled Waters' was met by commercial fishers and recreational anglers with 'total disgust', he says.
'It was a total ambush,' says Keith, referring to presenter and reporter, Charles Woolley masquerading as an angler and then, from the start of the story, quoting inaccurate figures and embellished claims by environmental groups and those who aggressively promote Marine Parks.
'It was one of the sloppiest pieces of journalism I have ever seen, and I told the producer of 60 Minutes that too!' adds Keith. 'You could only assume it’s all a conspiracy theory, to help the Pew Foundation.'
Watch the segment here: http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8237468
'Charles Woolley, who professes to be an angler, said in his opening paragraph that 90% of the fish in the ocean have disappeared in the past 50 years, which is total rubbish. He then went on to put Palau up as a shining example of marine preservation – which it’s not. They fish there, they don’t tag and release.'
As Keith explains: 'Bob Brown was the first to use those inflated figures in last year’s election campaign. Now 60 Minutes has used them and we are here to put an end to it. Leading scientists like Ray Hilborn from Washington University, Walter Starck and Ben Diggles from Australia say this all started from an incorrect report in 2003 known as the Meyers & Worm report. This report was subsequently de-bunked by six subsequent scientific reports.'
Dr Ben Diggles, a PhD in Marine Science, wrote a letter to 60 Minutes countering Woolley’s opening claims.
'Whenever the scientific community sees the ‘90% gone’ figure trotted out (again), we know those who use it have not done their homework,' he said, referring the program’s producer to the site http://imina.soest.hawaii.edu/PFRP/large_pelagics/large_pelagic_predators.html
'Once you read all of the papers on that webpage, and understand them, only then will you be in a position to make an informed decision on the quality of the statistic Charles led off on. Unfortunately the use of the discredited statistic right up front basically undermined the credibility of the entire program.'
Keith Douglas Marine Action Group, is forming Fishing Alliance. - .. ©
So, the Marine Action Group is doing something about it. 'In response to concerns over irresponsible media reporting on an issue that affects Australia’s food security, the jobs of tens of thousands of Australians as well as millions of Australians who fish for a hobby, the Marine Action Group is forming a Fishing Alliance to bring together recreational and professional fishing interests to combat anti-fishing propaganda,' says Keith.
'We need a united front together of everybody affected by this Marine Park debacle – the Seafood industry, commercial fishing, fish shops, ASTRA, BIAs, anglers and everybody. The impact on the economy will be 10 times greater if the Greens get their way. Environmentalists should stick to working out how to reduce sediment run off, stop ocean pollution and devote their energy to planting a green verge around our waterways – not jeopardising the livelihoods and pastimes of so many Australians.'
On the immediate agenda, Keith aims to harness 'people power' and compel the Nine Network to correct the errors on the 60 Minutes program. 'We will put it to the head of the Nine Network that they broadcast a correction. If they don’t, I am going to cause the biggest fuss they’ve ever seen – they will wish they had never contacted us in the first place!'
Keith has plenty planned to make the most of the millions of people on the combined databases that the Marine Action Group can access.
So incensed was the manager of Markwell’s Fisheries, Richard Brown at the 60 Minutes’ story he is one of many businesses that will sign up to the Fishing Alliance. He says the company processes the catches of 300 professional fishermen along the coast from Nelson Bay to Bundaberg and the claim that '50% of fish have gone in the last 50 years' is just 'plain rubbish'.
'60 Minutes came to the Keith and wanted to involve the people involved in the original rally. They approached us saying they wanted to show both sides of the story. We took them on their word that they were supportive. It was supposed to be a forum, then ended up as a gross misrepresentation of the truth. The program showed none of the questions we asked, the commercial guys, or Scott Littler from BLA. Nothing whatsoever was shown from our questions to Joe Ebono (former Greens candidate for Richmond in 2007 and now consultant).'
'We fell for it,' says Richard.
'My position on this is that the science doesn’t support the claims made by the Greens and environmental lobbyists. Everything the environmentalists say is taken as gospel – in the media and in government.'
Beyond the hype and recriminations, what is needed, says Richard is 'peer reviews, scientific proof that these statements are based on fact'.
'Dr Ben Diggles is a marine scientist and he and others have done the same research on this and found the statistics that are so often bandied about are baseless. We’re too busy working to fight these accusations from people living on Government funding and salaries.
'In our fishery, we have NSW and Queensland government scientists carry out assessments every season. We have been involved in this fishery for 70 years, now if that situation were the case, we wouldn’t be here. We are so heavily managed by Fisheries Management State and Federal, we have recordings of every right down to satellite tracking, and Fisheries have trigger points to react, which is what they did with snapper stocks recently. There is no point in us hammering a stock to extinction, we are environmentalists in that we want to continue working in this industry and so our interest is in protecting our fish stocks.'
Families like the Markwells and the hundreds of other commercial operations around the country have massive investments in their businesses. 'We have State and Commonwealth licenses, we are exporters, so we provide seafood for local consumption and bring business in to the country as well. All our machinery, equipment, employees – we can’t just give up.'
But fishermen are giving up their businesses, says Richard, 'and nobody is coming in to replace them'.
'This is a food security issue and the public needs to know about it. The issue has brought together commercial and recreational fishers like nothing before it. It’s unheard of – that the commercial guys and recreational fishos are banding together to fight this. We already import 75% of our seafood, and here we are, an island surrounded by water with massive resources on our doorstep and hundreds of thousands of people involved at every level. My dream is that the public will realise that this is a major issue that will affect everybody.'
But the first and most pressing fight for Keith Douglas is Tippler’s, off South Stradbroke Island on the Gold Coast. Next weekend, Keith has organised a rally and independent building expert to assess the structures in the area and determine whether they are sound.
'The Council has wasted about $17m in tax payers’ money, with the plan of demolishing the Tippler’s Tavern and other structures. Their argument was that it was the domain of drunk boaties and their plan was to return it to green park. But Council has taken a beating in the media, because we have right on our side.
'We have Councillor Susie Douglas and Eddy Sarroff onboard leading the charge, and an independent builder and engineer, which I have arranged, to inspect the building. Last year, when expressions of interests were called for, we put a submission in under Marine Qld, to return it as a boating destination.'
The reasons are simple, explains Keith: 'Tippler’s has a unique ambience, it’s one of the most sheltered anchorages on the Broadwater. It is a meeting place for boaties, where families could swim in the pool and you could order a counter lunch. The myth the Council perpetuated is that it was enjoyed by a mob of drunks, but that is just not true. Most of the regulars were grandparents taking their kids and grandkids. That is what we found from our independent survey. More than half the people concerned about Tippler’s are over 50. They are not yahoos, and they are offended by Mayor Ron Clarke’s rhetoric.'
More at www.marineactiongroup.com