OPINION: Be proud of the Marine Park

There is plenty more to Marine Parks than fish.

I WONDER how many Port Stephens residents and visitors realise that we are surrounded by a marine park (MP).

Did you know that the Port Stephens – Great Lakes MP is the largest of the six marine parks in New South Wales?

From Cape Hawke in the north, the MP stretches down south to Birubi Point, three nautical miles to sea and all the waters inside the port including the Myall and Smiths Lake systems.

Other NSW MPs are established at Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Jervis Bay, Batemans Bay and Lord Howe Island.

Declared a Marine Park by the NSW State Government in 2007, the Port Stephens – Great Lakes MP boundaries have remained unchanged since the turbulent times when the park was first put in place.

As it is in politics, the opposition decried the decision, informing the local communities that land values would collapse, boat sales and tourism would cease to exist.

Fishing would be banned, resulting in bait and tackle outlets and charter boat operators hitting the wall.

In fact, we were told by opponents that the entire trade and commercial industry would suffer.

Over time, all that misinformation has proven to be just that.

As a supporter of marine parks, I was one of around fifteen to twenty stakeholders, from Nelson Bay to Forster, who volunteered their time and expertise to negotiate the carving up of the MP into zones that would produce positive results for the environment and a sustainable fishery into the future.

The original Port Stephens – Great Lakes MP Advisory Council was made up of commercial and recreational fishers, marine scientists, environmentalists, charter operators and bureaucrats from Fisheries (NSW Department of Primary Industries).

I was one of three who represented recreational fishers.

As a group we were told by NSW Fisheries that around 20 percent of the MP would need to be set aside for ‘Sanctuary Zoning’, and that Grey Nurse sharks were on the verge of extinction.

At the time, the main focus of concern was referred to as ‘No take zones’ or ‘Sanctuary Zones’, later to become known as ‘lockouts’.

The fear of being excluded from areas inside the MP resulted in meetings of fishers, mainly those who opposed Sanctuary Zoning.

This was a difficult period, particularly for those responsible for representing their stakeholder groups.

The pressure was too much for some who simply resigned to avoid the intensity.

Finally, a map was presented to the community for their approval or otherwise.

Generally speaking, the map was accepted, although some opposition to the MP concept remained.

The map has remained unchanged, from the original, for over fifteen years, regardless of calls for it to be reviewed.

Opposition has fallen silent, however there is a general feeling that improvements can be made.

I know that improvements can be made.

Looking back, what has been achieved?

Very hard to say as no conclusive research exists to definitively determine that the MP has improved fish stocks or that our resources have been adequately protected.

Assumptions can be made but that is all they are.

What is required is a complete review of the Marine Park to determine the effectiveness in achieving the original aims.

Those aims being sustainability of the natural resources, protection of the marine environment and to prevent future development which may threaten what we have.

I would be interested in conducting a survey of residents to determine what living in an area surrounded by a Marine Park means to them.

Is it an inconvenience or are they proud to live within the boundaries?

Or, do they really know or care!

My questions to Fisheries would be – are Sanctuary Zones doing what they were designed to do?

Is the Port Stephens – Great Lakes MP achieving anything?

If so – what?

If not – why not?

Is the population of Grey Nurse Sharks impacted by commercial and recreational fishing?

When will the zoning within the boundaries of the MP be reviewed?

I would like to know why are Yagon, Wreck and Zenith Beaches closed to fishing?

What science-based evidence is available to show that recreational fishing off any beach is a threat to anything?

Why can’t a kid, living in Swan Bay, go fishing off a jetty that is on the family property?

These are but a few of the questions that require answers if the Port Stephens – Great Lakes MP is to have any real credibility and more importantly – effectiveness.

As stated, I am a supporter of the concept of a MP and I also support Sanctuary Zones.

Sanctuary Zones, established on sound scientific reasoning and accurate, logical citizen science, are essential for a MP to be effective.

If we are to have a MP, give us the opportunity to make it into the best, most effective marine park that the community can be justly proud of and will bring positive outcomes into the future.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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