There is a great deal of anxiety in all segments of the marine industry about the impact of marine parks, particularly the wide-ranging East Coast Marine Protected Areas. Charter boat and fishing charter vessels are often ignored by the media when it comes to comment about the potential impact of marine parks on their businesses.
They occupy the waters between commercial fishing operations and recreational fishers, relying on the occasional and the avid angler for their trade, which can run hot and cold depending on the season or the conditions.
One charter boat operator on the Gold Coast has been in business for 12 years, plying the sea from Point Lookout to the NSW border.
He states that charter fishing operators are very committed to the principles of conservation, but against the current incarnation of 'banning access to great areas'.
'We have a massive investment in our businesses with the cost of boats, equipment, registration, marketing and crew. We need the industry to be sustainable to ensure our future, as well as the marine ecosystem.'
According to this owner/operator, who chose not to be named, 'the issue of marine parks is complicated'.
'I am against them in their current form, but would support a ban on fishing in certain, suitable places. We need to treat the sea as a nursery and resource, not abuse it. On a local basis, we should have areas that are known fishing grounds closed for a year, say 10 to 20 square nautical miles, and then reopen them. They replenish quickly and there are plenty of other fishing grounds we can go to.'
He also emphasises that fishing charter boats are in the unique position of being out on the water most days and have the ability to choose where they fish and limit their catches. 'For example, if we catch one Teraglin for each person onboard, we won't catch any more. We'll move to another place and catch amberjack, or mackerel, again one for each person. We are very conscious of diversity.'
Col McKenzie is executive director of The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators Pty Ltd (AMPTO), the peak industry body for marine tourism within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
AMPTO has the charter to cover any marine park nationally, but its members essentially come from the Great Barrier Reef and Moreton Bay Marine Park areas.
McKenzie says many of the 110 members are very worried about being locked out of huge tracts of sea around the Reef and beyond.
'As I see it the key to it is to make them multiple use zones. If the government stated they would spend $10m policing marine parks and managing them, there might be justification for it. But they are not. GBRMPA is underfunded as it is. How is the government going to maintain and monitor larger marine parks?
'Why would you triple the area when the only real problems in this area are illegal fishing and outfall pollution. Recreational fishing is miniscule and I can’t see there’s any environmental impact, diving is on a ‘look don’t take’ basis, and then charters are small in numbers over a massive area.
'If there are to be commercial fishing reduction, the government needs to ensure compensation for those fishermen. The government ended up spending $250m on compensating for the Representative Areas Plan on the GBR. So, buy their licenses out. There are quite a few commercial fishermen who have already indicated they would be happy to hand them in.'
According to McKenzie, there’s also a case for national pride. 'Here you have the Pew Foundation, a US organisation, telling us how to manage our backyard. Law abiding people are being restricted and the law breakers are having more of an open season.'
He says that all anglers and tourism operators would agree 'Do we need biodiversity protection? Absolutely. But we need to protect them on paper and not ignore them. Marine Zones that are untended indicate to our neighbours to come and have a fish.'
McKenzie advises industry and interested recreational anglers to pay attention to the next round of public consultations coming up in a few months’ time when people will get their say.
Keep an eye on the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities at www.environment.gov.au
For more information on AMPTO visit www.ampto.com.au