ENVIRONMENT Minister Peter Garrett moved quickly yesterday to soothe alarm across the Gympie Region’s seafood and tourism industries, following an announced environmental review of fishing rights off the Cooloola and Fraser Island coastline.
In an exclusive interview with The Gympie Times, he promised the review announcement was not code for a fishing ban, but would be a genuine process aimed at preserving a future for all stakeholders, as well as the environment.
Tin Can Bay fishers this week voiced their fears of a fishing ban which would shut down their town’s economy, wreck lives and hit hard at all the businesses and jobs from Gympie to the coast that supply commercial and recreational fishers with accommodation, equipment, supplies and professional services.
One Bay fisher said his industry was “like a punch-drunk boxer” after 10 years of government reviews and new laws.
“Consultation” had been a false promise, their submissions had been ignored and all their worst fears had come true, industry representatives said on Thursday.
But not this time, Mr Garrett promised yesterday.
“There will be marine protected areas,” Mr Garrett told me from his Canberra office yesterday.
But he said past fishing industry reviews had not been by the Commonwealth and he would not see fishers railroaded by pre-existing agendas.
He promised “an honest and thorough process” to protect all interests, including “protecting the marine environment and its capacity to provide high environmental values of interest to commercial and recreational fishers.
“This is a fair dinkum process,” he said.
Announcement of the declaration of waters off Cooloola and Fraser Island as an “Area for Future Assessment” did not have any “legislative or prescriptive impact.”
It was “the beginning of what I expect to be a very full and ample consultation with stakeholders – fishers, scientists, local people and in some places indigenous people
“I want to be sure we are fully informed in developing what is an ongoing marine protection process.”
This would, as he had announced earlier, “take into account the need to minimise the impacts on industry.”
It would attempt to achieve “what can sometimes be a very difficult balance,” he said yesterday.
Development of a national network of “multiple use and no-take marine reserves in Commonwealth waters around Australia” was a process endorsed by both sides of federal politics.
It aimed to create a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012.
“To do that we need to identify areas for formal assessment of eco-systems within regions and to narrow down areas for protection and the establishment of marine reserves and mixed use areas for recreation and commercial fishing and the like,” Mr Garrett said.
“The Commonwealth assessment process specifies built in levels of consultation and stakeholder engagement
“(This begins) two months of targeted consultation with the fishing industry, then we will take into account science and information brought to us by industry, including take levels, catches and so on, so we are fully informed.
“This is a process that will take until early next year before any drafts are prepared and then they are only drafts. Then there is a statutory consultation process under the Act and that takes 90 days. Then final options are prepared for the government to consider.
“I have a commitment to thorough processes,” he said.