Dealing with the issue of Marine protexted areas: Mark Kallman

I firmly believe that spearfishers are inherently environmentally conscious and are in a unique position to lobby the managers of these processes to the benefit of the spearfishing community. My involvement has been through the revue of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. Let me start out by saying that in a soundly democratic and consultative environment, you will achieve much more. It will be nigh on impossible to find common ground when dealing with bombastic/autocratic marine authorities and in that perspective, we are extremely fortunate.

The success of marine parks is supposedly supported by numerous papers discussing the positive effect the closure has had. The statement often made is that fish numbers are greater and fish are generally larger in the closed areas. These observations are of no relevance if they are anesdotal. Even where the size of the fish has been objectively determined, one is inclined to ask the question: do more and bigger fish make for a healthier system? The other statement rallied in support of a marine closure is that the fish will breed more effectively and feed fish into the surrounding area. This is only true when a particular fish species has collapsed to a point where recruitment into the population is below optimum. If recruitment is at an optimum level, just because there are more eggs spawned does not mean there will be more fish. Species tend to have very specific environmental requirements and this may then become the governing factor. There is limited space and having more eggs does not mean you will get more fish. Comparing an area that is closed with a fished area creates all sorts of problems. In a closed area, the sampling fishing/baiting effort is exclusive and there is no competition for the resource and therefore the population becomes over-represented. Outside of the closed area, there is competition with other extractive users. Thus the sampling fishing effort competes and the sampling will be skewed away from the sampling.

Areas that are closed to extractive users are not necessarily sanctuary areas offering complete protection. The sanctuary area does little to protect against pollution, disease, global environmental change or even local weather events for that matter. Allowing only non-extractive use eg. scuba does not negate negative impact. Many papers have been published to indicate the negative impact of scuba diving  especially in isolated popular areas.

Factors that need to be highlighted is that when a sanctuary area is declared, it is often done after determining where the most productive fishing area is and that is closed. Sanctuary areas are heavily weighted in favour of hard/reef substrate with little or no sandy or muddy substrate representation which is a glaring omission on the part of the marine park authorities and their desire to protect representative areas. In addition, a line marking the boundary of a sanctuary area on a piece of paper does nothing to protect highly mobile species which are often the species we target. The declaration of a sanctuary in a particular area may have extremely negative impacts on the surrounding marine environment as a result of a redirection of fishing pressure to limited areas i.e. the remaining areas are more heavily fished. The fishing effort has not been reduced only concentrated.

The club became involved in the process having a member on the advisory committee. The national spearfishing bodies were kept in the loop and all information was filtered to as many spearos as possible. When a request was made for submissions on the marine park, a detailed submission was created that allowed anyone to send in a unique submission which then went to the marine park authority, the minister and the shadow minister for the environment. This site can be viewed at www.savesol.com. At this stage over 2000 submissions have been sent in support. Any meeting referring to the marine park is attended by at least one club member to keep our interests in the limelight. The marine park authority is frequently petitioned for specific spearfishing meetings to address our ongoing concerns. Other extractive users have been encouraged to join us to formulate a combined plan and this included recreational and local commercial fishers. The local national and state political representatives have also been involved and they have been very vocal supporters of the effort as has the local city council. The importance of this debate and the inclusion of other extractive users has highlighted the plight of local commercial fishers and enjoyed a good deal of newspaper coverage. Involving other groups has also allowed us to tap into their support base and feed off their initiatives too eg. Invitation of guest speakers to address the fishing community and the organisation of a rally in support of fishing to be held in the centre of Coffs Harbour.

We stand to lose more if we are separated than if we present a united front. The club was closely involved with the original consultation for the marine park and we learned a great deal about the process. It is imperative that your aims/goals are clearly defined and that you have good scientific data to support your arguments. Scientific data should be site specific, i.e. research that has been conducted in the area of interest. We are fortunate that this type of research has been done and one needs to work through the scientific papers and disregard supposition instead concentrating on the facts at hand. The marine park authority should be held accountable for the nature of the research conducted. If extensive research is conducted to support the exclusion of fishing then it is important to lobby for research regarding the effect of scuba diving, pollution, weather effects and socio-economic impact of closures. Keep emotion out of these discussions and utilize professional people who are able to properly evaluate scientific literature.

The Solitary Islands Marine Park revue process is not over yet and the importance of having a united front defending our position remains paramount. The effect of our lobbying remains to be seen. Watch this space.