Australian government moves to reopen large areas of national marine park system to fishing

MPA News

In a move that has been in the making for the past five years, the Australian government formally announced its plans in March 2018 to scale back protections for the nation’s system of marine parks. Overall, 80% of Australia’s marine park waters will now be open to commercial fishing, up from 63% under the system’s original design. And 97% of Commonwealth waters within 100 km of the coast will be open to recreational fishing.

The new management plans are slated to take effect 1 July 2018. A media release on the plans is here. The new plans are here.

Most impacted is the 1-million-km2 Coral Sea Marine Park. In the original design, half of it was to be no-take. Now just 24% of it will be.

A five-year review

The system of parks – planned and designated by the previously ruling Labor Government in 2012, but for which management plans were not implemented before Labor lost power in 2013 – has been under review since then by a series of succeeding (Liberal-National) Coalition governments.

That review process reassessed the science and zoning of the parks, and involved two government-appointed review panels that released their findings in 2016. This was followed by a public consultation period that ended later that year. In the meantime, the parks’ boundaries remained but their management plans were in limbo.

The current ruling Coalition government argues the new management plans will still protect important marine habitat while reducing financial impacts on fishers. But the new plans go even further than the review panels’ recommendations: the panels suggested, for example, that no-take coverage in the Coral Sea be reduced less significantly – to 41% as opposed to the new plans’ 24%.

The Labor party, which considered the 2012 marine park system the most comprehensive network of its kind worldwide, has called the new plans “the largest removal of marine area from conservation, ever.” Labor and Green party politicians attempted to disallow the new plans with legal maneuvering but were voted down. They have suggested they will keep up the fight to disallow the plans in coming weeks. Conservation groups and scientists have strongly criticized the new plans.

MPA News will examine the impacts of this decision in the coming months.

For more media coverage:

Sydney Morning Herald: Government winds back marine protections to support fishing industry

Sydney Morning Herald: Scientists say parks plan guts protections around Ningaloo and beyond

Mongabay: Australia opens vast swaths of famed marine parks to fishing

The Guardian: The 'best' outcome? How the marine park plans divided scientists and conservationists

The Guardian: The government's marine park plans are diabolical for ocean protection

The Ecologist: Will opening Australia’s marine reserves to fishing wreck its ecosystem?

Fishing World: Commonwealth Marine Park Management Plans – the right balance


Marine parks have been in place in south-east Australia for a decade.  The previous Labor Gov proposed parks for the remainder of Australia.  To sure up support from the Greens the Labor party agreed to close large areas within proposed parks to commercial fishing.  Most of this was in the Coral Sea.  These parks were never implemented. 

The current (Coalition) proposal is based on science and the impacts that different fishing gears have on the seafloor.  Some gears (like trawls) are potentially damaging but others such as surface longlining are not.  The current zoning proposed (what sectors are allowed where) takes this into account.  Zoning in the Coral Sea inparticular has changed.  Expert and scientific panels both resolved that there was no point in stopping some low risk fishing methods and moving them elswehere.  This is particularly true for highly migatory fish like tunas. 

This network of marine parks is a huge conservation gain for Australia.  It is disingenuous to say that protection has decreased when there is a new level of protection being added.

We should not rely on marine parks to manage fisheries.  Australia has some of the best managed commercial fisheries in the world.  Marine parks protect sesitive seafloor habitats from potentially damaging fishig gears.

Simon Boag

South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) 

Simon Boag is a fishing lobbyist and surprisingly can't see the benefit of marine parks in 'fishery' management. Simon fails again to see biodiversity as a valid management objective. Fisheries managers often seem to see marine parks only as some sort of admission that they can not manage their fishery. Unfortunately the Australian government is currently devoid of environmental literacy and the marine environment must wait for a government that can comprehend the issues facing our marine biodiversity. Like climate change, the Australian government simply chooses to ignore scientific advice in favour the aspirations/dreams of industry.

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