This week the Turnbull Government has quietly performed the largest act of marine vandalism in Australia’s history. Minister Frydenberg has ignored both the science and the overwhelming public input on this issue to tear great holes in the fabric of Labor’s national marine protection network.
While the most extensive damage is being done in the critical waters of the Coral Sea, proper protection is being removed for three deep-water sanctuaries in Western Australia: the Gascoyne’s Deepwater Sanctuary is the lifeblood of Ningaloo Reef; the Argo Rowley Deep sanctuary is a crucial feeding and breeding ground for Kimberley marine life; and the Diamantina Fracture Zone is Australia’s deepest mountain range, home to an incomparable treasure trove of known and yet-to-be-studied marine life.
All these areas were included in Labor’s 2012 national marine parks plan and were recommended for retention by the Government’s own scientific review. These areas – the Gascoyne and Argo-Rowley Deep Sanctuaries in the state’s north, and the Diamantina Fracture Zone in the Southwest – are not currently fished, but play a key role in protecting biodiversity and fishery health.
Make no mistake, the only reason for removing these sanctuary zones is to open the way for industrial fishing and super-trawlers in these far offshore locations. We are already seeing a regional increase in this form of brutal, indiscriminate fishing, and if the government has its way, Australia will be next.
By slashing offshore sanctuary zones the Turnbull government is putting out a welcome mat for foreign factory trawlers to wreak havoc in the Australian Fishing Zone. This would be disastrous for local fish stocks and for Australia’s own commercial fishing industry. It will result in species loss through indiscriminate by-catch, with flow-on effects for local communities, recreational fishers, and ocean-based tourism.
The Turnbull government is also removing two small but important sanctuaries at the marine tourism hotspot in Geographe Bay, despite the overwhelming opposition of the local community, including recreational fishers. A sanctuary at the head of the Perth Canyon, one of the few known feeding areas for the protected Blue Whale, is being cut.
In all this we have to begin from the premise that ocean protection is paramount. If we don’t properly protect our marine ecosystems, then fisheries will inevitably deteriorate and eventually collapse. That is happening around the world, including in our region.
During Senate Estimates in October last year, the CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority confirmed that AFMA and other agencies are in talks with commercial fishing operators about allowing overseas fishing vessels into Australia’s Fishing Zone. At the same time, the Department of the Environment also revealed that 92 per cent of the 82,000 submissions received in relation to the proposed marine network called for Labor’s original plans, settled in 2013, to be restored.