The Beagle Editor,
Andrew Constance’s statements about the Batemans Marine Park in last Friday’s Beagle demonstrate that the post-truth era has well and truly arrived on the South Coast. Apart from his butchery of the facts, it is particularly disappointing that Mr Constance chooses to listen to just one point of view, on an issue where a broad community consensus is desperately needed. It is obvious that the marine park arrangements are going to be reversed every time there is a change of government unless we get to a point where all, or at least most, of those with an interest are prepared to support the park. It’s not just a fishing issue. Those interested in our coastal waters include the general community, who just want to know that the environment is being cared for, scientists, conservationists, Indigenous people, the tourism industry, particularly eco-tourism, divers and snorkelers, the education sector, oyster growers, abalone divers, recreational and commercial fishers, and above all the younger generations who are going to have to deal with whatever problems we leave behind. What is needed is leadership to bring all these sectors together with a sense of broad community solidarity, not short term and self-interested politicking.
But what do we get? A grab bag of inaccuracies that presents a one-sided view and is not even consistent with the Government’s own policies and practice:
Mr Constance says that Labor and the Greens “locked (fishers) out of 85% of the best fishing grounds on the Far South Coast”. In fact, "no take" sanctuary zones amount to less than 20% of the total area of the Batemans Marine Park. Considering the Far South Coast as a whole, the percentage of no-take areas would be less than 10%. And given a chance, these areas will actually be to the benefit of fishing, by promoting more and larger fish to flourish, as well as other marine life.
He talks about “fast tracking consultation”. What a joke! The Government’s so-called marine estate reform process started way back in 2012 and is still a long way from being concluded. As for the Marine Park Advisory Committee, which is the mechanism for consultation, it took the Government the best part of two years from the time it invited applications to the time it filled the positions. Fast tracking indeed!
His objective of "giving fishers greater access" flies in the face of his own Government’s legislation, which in section 22 of the 2014 Marine Estate Management Act, describes the primary purpose of a marine park as "to conserve the biological diversity and maintain ecosystem integrity and … function of bioregions in the marine estate".
Mr Constance's ‘hit list’ of no take zones that he would like to see opened would destroy the Batemans Marine Park, leaving little but meaningless lines on a map. There is no scientific justification for such vandalism and it has not been discussed by the Marine Park Advisory Committee.
Mr Constance's implication that that the outcomes are already decided suggests he regards community consultation as just a box ticking exercise.
His claim that protection of the western side of the Tollgates is "without any reason", demonstrates a lack of awareness of the unusual presence there - on an offshore island - of Posidonia sea grass, ignores the need for a marine park to protect the full variety of habitats in its bioregion, including offshore islands, and ignores world-recognised research that shows that isolated locations surrounded by sand will more effectively lead to increased biodiversity and biomass.
His statement that the greatest threat comes from land based pollution rather than fishing is a half-truth. The Government’s own threat assessment made a distinction between estuaries, where pollution is the greatest threat, and coastal and marine waters, where climate change, various forms of fishing and inappropriate development are listed as higher priority threats than pollution.
His statement that the Marine Park Advisory committee agreed on management objectives at a meeting in December is plain wrong. There were insufficient members attending that meeting to provide a quorum and so nothing was decided at all. I know - I was there. And the general approach of the Committee is that it is better do the marine park planning job well than to do it quickly.
And among all this mish-mash of cheap slogans there is no reference to climate change and its threat to our environment, our lifestyle and our local industries. Nor to threatened species. Hopefully, someone else can do better than this. Bill Barker
Image: a critically endangered grey nurse shark. They come into our south coast waters every summer and have recognised aggregation sites at Montague Island and the Tollgate Islands, but they can pop up anywhere. This impressive lady was photographed at Potato Point.