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Queenfish under threat with new marine park plans

Queenfish under threat with new marine park plans

The draft marine park management plan for the Buccaneer Archipelago and Dampier Peninsula was rather stealthily released by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) just before Christmas, and raised plenty of eyebrows in the recreational fishing community.

Under the plan, which will see the area co-managed by traditional owners to help protect cultural practices, around 37 per cent of waters would be locked up from anglers, unless they are fishing on a charter.

While proponents of the plan were keen to point out 63 per cent of the waters within the parks were still open, local fishers said that almost all the popular spots to wet a line had been lost, with one fisheries manager telling me the real figure was closer to 90 per cent when it came to fishing locations potentially lost.

The draft plans, and there is time for the public to comment, don’t appear to consider the social importance (including economic value) and amenity of fishing in the Kimberley, and would set a worrying precedent for the rest of the state with the potential to greatly impact the lifestyles of many people and economically affect regional areas.

For example, the Buccaneer plans would severely impact the people of Derby, with almost all their treasured fishing grounds potentially closed to access.

An expected increase in visitors to the area following the sealing of the road to Cape Leveque was mooted as a driving force behind the changes, with the likelihood of increased visitor numbers and more fishing pressure as a result.

The plan was announced under the guise of conservation and fisheries management and few anglers would be opposed to science-based marine protection zones, or to traditional owners having more of a role in managing their area.

However, I say guise as I last year attended a marine park planning meeting in which a senior DBCA staffer told us in no uncertain terms that the overriding principle for one new park farther south was nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with political imperatives.

The spokesperson said Premier Mark McGowan had publically committed to the new marine park and therefore it was simply DBCA’s job to make it happen, with the preference to make it close to a regional centre as possible to make management easier.

Forget science, this is about a political commitment to move an additional five million hectares into the conservation estate, despite WA already having a comprehensive fisheries management and research program and 95 per cent of fish stocks meeting sustainability targets.

When it comes to the Buccaneer Archipelago there are currently no sustainability concerns for fish stocks in the area yet anglers stand to lose access to most of their highly-valued fishing locations as DBCA ventures beyond its usual jurisdiction into fisheries resource management, which there is already a separate department in charge of managing.

Recfishwest and senior fisheries managers have publically and privately expressed dismay with the Kimberley process thus far, with one of the latter saying the consultation leading up to the draft management plans was almost non-existent and had caused a total loss of faith in DBCA planning processes.

“We must come up with something better than what has been proposed,” said Recfishwest’s Leyland Campbell.

Looking at the map of the marine parks, it is pretty clear most embayments, islands and creeks, as well as some important safe anchorages, are affected – three of the key areas for Kimberley fishers.

The plan has the potential to create an extremely worrying resource sharing precedent for coastal management around the entire state, excluding anglers from their favoured locations and denying community access to fish stocks that are a common property resource.

There were already similar concerns in Esperance, where locals are fearful of loss of access with the new marine park planned for the Recherche Archipelago, and the quest for five million hectares will affect other areas on the south coast and is likely to see an expansion of the Marmion Marine Park.

The announcement of the Buccaneer Archipelago plans sparked spirited debate on social media, but the most important thing anglers can do is have their say during the public consultation process.

The public comment period is open until May 21, with the plans expected to be finalised later in the year, and more information can be found at www.dpaw.gov.au .

Caption: Fishing in the Buccaneer Archipelago, where Ashley Prescott caught this queenfish, is under threat with new marine park plans.

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