The Nature Coast Marine Group, a community organisation based in Eurobodalla, is dismayed at the recent announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall, revoking protection of five sanctuary zones in the Batemans Marine Park. Dr Jane Elek, President of the NCMG, is very concerned that this will impact fish populations in general and in particular critically endangered grey nurse sharks and vulnerable black cod at Montague Island.
Dr Jane Elek said "This decision has been made without the required two-month public consultation period, with no advice from the Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee or any other public consultation apart from private discussions with select local recreational fishers.
"This means the previous 19% of the Batemans Marine Park environment that was fully protected from all forms of extraction such as fishing will be even further reduced.
“This will also spell bad news for the encroaching urchin barrens on Montague Island since the best way of halting the increase in urchins is to conserve their major predators such as large crayfish, groper and snapper. Urchin barrens already cover 50% of our local reefs, resulting in the loss of the kelp that provides habitat for the whole reef ecosystem, including fish.
“Opening up four sanctuary zones in Wagonga Inlet, Brou and Nangudga Lakes to fishing will virtually eliminate these areas as fish nurseries”.
“Any fisher knows that the best place to fish is around the boundaries of protected areas. That is because scientific research has established that fish breeding in protected areas provide stock that disperses into unprotected areas.”
"So opening up more sanctuary zones to fishing is a sad day for the future of local fish populations. Fishing may improve for this summer, but in the longer term these changes will exacerbate the urchin barrens around Montague Island, impact negatively on fish nurseries in estuaries so that fish stocks will shrink in average size and number, and greatly reduce the overall effectiveness of the Batemans Marine Park at sustaining our marine life."
"It is an appalling setback for what is already a coastline under enormous pressure and yet another example of this government’s complete disregard for not only their own rules and guidelines but also for Australia's dwindling natural habitats," said Dr Elek
The blue groper at Montague Island - photo Jen Thompson