… or at least that seems to be what Australia’s Opposition leader thinks would happen if he stopped the expansion of marine protected areas in Australian waters:
In a policy aimed at marginal Queensland seats, Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ”immediately suspend the marine protection process which is threatening the livelihoods of many people in the fishing industry and many people in the tourism industry”.
”All of us want to see appropriate environmental protection, but man and nature have to live together,” Mr Abbott said as he toured the seat of Dawson, in Mackay, which is held by Labor by 2.6 per cent.
Citing “Real action to protect our marine environments and fishing communities” , Mr Abbott wants to balance environmental protection with economic growth by first suspending the marine protected area process. But doesn’t tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy annually?
The GBRMP re-zoning that resulted in an increase in strict protection from 4.5% to over 30% was of course intiated under the previous Howard government, and undertaken through a comprehensive research and consultation process. According to Mr Abbott, things have gone awry since then, although so far the details on this are scanty.
Coalition policy would require consideration of peer reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity before future decisions are made about marine park establishment:
“We would not be interested in just putting lines on maps. If there’s something out there that needs to be protected, if it’s iconic and needs protection, we’d want to see the science and that science would have to be peer-reviewed.”
Fortunately, there is already a lot out there to suggest that the marine environment is under threat, fishing kills fish and that marine parks have benefits for biodiversity and maintaining fish stocks. Conservation planning software used world wide, and developed in Queensland, is used to assist in the creation of marine parks in a way that seeks to achieve protection for biodiversity while balancing socio-economic objectives. The science is light years ahead of lines on maps (although, this can be helpful as part of the community consultation process).
It’s encouraging to see the high regard that Mr Abbott places upon peer reviewed science on this issue, so for someone who gets his ‘facts’ about climate change from Heaven + Earth, perhaps a bit of consistency wouldn’t go astray?
Tony Abbott must think people are so stupid they can’t hold two ideas in their head at the same time by saying he will stop the process for considering the science but still base decisions on science.
It’s almost as tragically funny as the views he expressed on climate change reported in The Australian on 8 May 2010:
“TONY ABBOTT has urged primary school students to be sceptical about man-made climate change, saying it was warmer during the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus than it is now.
The Opposition Leader, wrapping up a two-day visit to South Australia yesterday, told Year 5 and 6 students that climate change had always happened and, historically, humans had not been responsible.
Mr Abbott’s impromptu history lesson came in a question-and-answer session with students during a visit to the Trinity Gardens Primary School in the marginal federal seat of Sturt, held by Liberal Chris Pyne.
Mr Abbott asked the students if they knew about the Ice Age and if it “was caused by human beings”.
“OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now,” Mr Abbott said.
“And then during what they called the Dark Ages it was colder. Then there was the medieval warm period. Climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history.
“It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.”
Good to see a politician finally speak out against the current marine park mania. The GBR marine park has been a socio-economic disaster and it’s doubtful if there has been any net environmental benifit (none has been demonstrated). The consultation process amounted to caving in to the demands of the WWF and the Australian Democrats (the latter as part of a deal to get the GST passed).
With the least fished waters in the world (we import 70% of our seafood despite having the 3rd largest EEZ in the World), we have 30% of the World’s marine parks. It will be 50% if demands for a Coral Sea marine park are met. There is no need to rush into the establishment of more parks. Unless of course your a government relying on Green’s preferences to get elected!
“if it’s iconic and needs protection…..”
How about if it’s absolutely essential to maintain breeding and growth of commercially valuable fish stocks or the plants and animals they need to grow? “Iconic” is dog whistle talk for only-if-it’s-spectacular-like-the-Opera-House. We depend on the systems and food webs that maintain the few items among the millions of living things that we actually consume. Most of these things are interesting only to scientists or interested amateurs observing this part of the natural world. Little slimy things do not have the glamour or general appeal of an Opera house or a koala, but we need them.
Because all of us are interested in having a food supply that will sustain not just us but our grandchildren and their grandchildren. If that means we need to value these things more and eat them less often, then that’s what we have to do. Maybe, just maybe, if we learn more about breeding and growth of these things, there might be more available when we act on that knowledge. What a notion!
Are you saying that the establishment of the GBR Marine Park in the 1970s has been a socio-economic disaster?
The main reason for establishing the GBR Marine Park was to prohibit oil drilling. These was a great deal of political and public concern about oil drilling in the GBR in the 1970s after very serious oil spills overseas in the 1960s. The massive BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a current example of why protecting the GBR from oil drilling is still needed.
If you are OK with the establishment of the GBR Marine Park in the 1970s, but angry about the re-zoning in 2004, do you have any data to support your claim about a “socio-economic disaster”? I am not aware of any published reports on the economic impact of the re-zoning and I’d like to see them if there are any.
As I understand it, even leaving aside the the value of tourism, fishing is still going well on the GBR after the re-zoning.
In relation to your point about “[rushing] into the establishment of more parks”, the marine park planning process is a long and careful one that takes into account many factors, including fishing. It is not a rush.
The irony is that Tony Abbott’s announcement is about securing votes to get elected, not good policy.
I would also be interested in any evidence that suggested that the GBR Marine Park has been a detriment to the local and/or national economy. More recent figures than indicated in my article say the following:
“It has been estimated that tourism, recreational fishing and commercial fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park contributed $5.4 billion to the Australian economy in 2006-07. The national economic value generated by 15 of Australia’s other World Heritage Areas is of the order of $7.25 billion annually, along with approximately 83,000 jobs.”
Tourism is the main source of revenue (http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1117-corals.html).
You mention that Australia has 30% of the world’s MPAs (I haven’t come across this figure before), but a bit of context: less than 1% of the world’s oceans are protected. There are very good reasons to increase this protection (some cited in my article).
I’m also a bit doubtful that the presence of marine parks is the reason why we import 70% of our seafood, which is probably more to do with other factors such as exchange rates, fuel costs and cheaper labour overseas that cause imports to outcompete our own seafood production:
“…fishing effort and catches have been negatively impacted by rises in the cost of fuel, and an appreciating Australian dollar, which makes exports less competitive and imports more attractive to consumers”
Good reasons to advocate buying locally produced seafood.
It is good policy on behalf of Tony Abbott, Chris. With the least fished waters in the World it is doubtful we need many more restrictions on fishing. If further restrictions are needed it is doubtful that marine parks are the bset way to do it.
I don’t think that oil drilling was banned on the GBR because of the marine park. The government decided to ban it and that was that. To put it another way why is it neccessary to ban fishing in order to ban oil drilling?
Yes, I was refering to the re-zoning in 2004. A good measure of it’s effect was the fact that it was neccessary to pay $300m to shore based businesses in compensation, when the GBRMPA said 1 or 2 million would be neccessary. The small but lucrative reef fishing industry was severly affected. As was recreation fishing with most towns on the southern GBR losing 80% of their accessable reefs. 300 anglers were given criminal convictions for straying into green zones and angling participation dropped by 40% in the Cairns area.
I think catches are mainly limited by the sutainability measures eg AMFA reducing the number of Commonwealth boats from 1200 to 600. The NSW government reducing commercial licences from 7000 to 1000 since the 1990’s. Plus other measures like gear restrictions, quotas etc. These were prior to and largely independent of the implementation of marine parks. Another measure is we have around 1/20th of the World’s average fishing pressure. So the question must be asked how is managing the whole of the fishery with measures like these inferior to managing it through marine parks. Remember it’s not as if there aren’t any costs and problems with marine parks. Why, with our fishing effort so limited, must we have 50% of the World’s marine parks?
Regarding the $5.4 billion figure, that includes fishing – an activity the GBRMPA has set out to curtail to a large extent! The tourism on the GBR can’t simply be attributed to the marine park. There is no reason for instance for not being able to have a thriving reef fishing industry alongside a thriving tourism industry. The fishing effort is around below 100x what is regarded as sustainable for coral reefs for instance. Only a dozen or so reefs are regularly visited by tourists, why not just make some of them green zones?
I think there are still some questions about the effectiveness of no fishing zones (the main form of MPAs)in tropical Australian waters as a method to protect or enhance general biodiversity. This was always evident but kept under the surface in the rezoning of the GBR. There has not really been any conclusive analysis that shows that stopping fishing of a few top predator fish (coral trout, red throat emperor, etc)has any effect on, for example, coral cover, coral biodiversity much less mollusc or crustacean or algal biodiversity on reefs or even the biodiversity of other fish species not fished for. Its hard, I think, to even theoretically think how having more or less coral trout on a reef will effect the other 5000 species on the reef. This is specific to Australia while one can see in some other countries prevention of fishing may also stop destructive fishing practices (eg blast fishing) which do have direct effects on other species on the reef.
I think the pro large increase in MPAs scientists do need to come up with better evidence of how banning fishing does contribute to general biodiversity outcomes.
I guess the measures you mention there don’t restrict fishing to any particular location. I think it’s important for at least some locations to be off limits to human disturbances (not just fishing). Restrictions on gear and quotas don’t necessarily guarantee protection of biodiversity in locations that are particularly senstive or under threat, so it makes sense for some spatial restriction to be in place for that reason. By the same token, there may cases where restrictions on fishing could be relaxed to allow for sustainable use.
Across the board measures don’t seem ideal for the fishing industry in all cases either. So perhaps where spatial restrictions are in place, reductions in quotas or licenses might not be necessary. You mention that the total number of boats has decreased, but hasn’t average catch/fishing effort per boat increased over time?
The $5.4 billion figure does include fishing, but this link (http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1117-corals.html), although outdated, shows the proportion attributed to fishing is much less than tourism. The point isn’t about who generates the most revenue, but I think it’s important to consider that there are other stakeholder groups that are part of this discussion, even though fishing seems to have become the main focus. Certain restrictions on access don’t work for everyone, so having multiple zones can help balance the needs of different groups and biodiversity protection. Maybe a system where some MPA zones rotate over time could potentially help balance the replenishment of fish stocks with access to the fishing industry?
Coming back to the main issue, I still feel that a blanket ban on the MPA process is too heavy handed. Those who advocate MPAs don’t want to “lock up” the oceans, but rather want to ensure the persistance of biodiversity, as well as the fishing industry. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;314/5800/745
It’s not a bad thing that catch per unit effort has increased if it’s a sign that there are more fish around. The cut in the number of fishermen has lead to a drop in catches but the remaining fishermen are catch more in a given time. Eg in NSW the total catch has halved sinced the 1990’s while the CPU has risen. There are other spatial measures in place too that don’t involve marine parks, eg area bans on trawling, recreational fishing havens.
It can’t always be assumed that fishing reduces biodiversity either (intermediate disturbance effect) – or that marine parks will preserve it (pollution and degradation may well be a bigger threat). Also given the mobility of fish and their larvae there is really no such thing as an unexploited ocean so the question still remains is it better locking up some areas to all fishing or a more holistic approach of managing the whobbbresource with more traditional methods.
PS: I don’t think Abbott is banning any future marine parks.
If total catch has gone down despite catch per unit effort going up, how is this a good sign for the preservation of fish stocks?
I know that fishing, given the various forms it comes in, is not always a detriment to biodiversity – obviously line fishing is better than trawling. But again fishing is not the only source of impact to marine biodiversity, and not the only industry that needs to be consulted. And again, given all the reasons cited previously, MPAs have been recommended by scientists as a way to protect biodiversity and fish stocks. Given Mr. Abbott plans on consulting the peer reviewed literature before going on with the process, if there is evidence that the traditional methods you mention have benefits over MPAs, then he will probably find it.
“blanket ban” was a poor choice of words on my behalf. Mr Abbott specifically plans to “immediately put on hold the Marine Bioregional Planning process”.
The total catch has gone down because a large number of fishermen have been removed from the fishery. It’s not surprising that the remaining fishermen are catching more on a per unit effort basis – more fish around means they are easier to catch.
Yes there is a lot of enthusiasm for MPA’s from some scientists but when you look hard the really positive results come from areas where the management was already poor or non-existant and any initiative would likely have given positive results. Anyone who thinks that the merits MPAs as a fisheries management tool are cut and dried should look at Prof Ray Hilborn’s paper ‘Faith Based Fisheries’.
You mentioned trawling being more ecologically damaging. This raises the point that if you want to keep up the same (relatively small) yield of our fisheries with substantial no take zones then you would have to step up trawling in the areas left open and possbly create more ecological dammage that a more holistic approach. Note too that Prof Colin Buxton found adverse changes in species assemblages resulting from a Tasmanian marine park (different mobility of species result in varying levels of protection).
This is just more populism in place of policy; for too many recreational as well as professional fishermen (mostly men), the ongoing decline of fish stocks is cause to open more areas to fishing more intensively rather than closing any irrespective of any intent to help overall fish stocks (if not recover, at least) decline more slowly.
Like the climate and sustainability debates, long term policy based on science is being dismissed in favour of the short term populism. Sheeting home blame on ‘greenies’ for reduction of immediate opportunities is undeniably popular and there won’t be any illumination of the long term consequences from a politician like Abbott who thinks climate change at least is complete crap and no doubt considers his own immediate opportunities to be all important.
Our fish stocks (ie Australian) are not in ‘ongoing decline’, Ken. And like other countries (eg NZ, USA, Iceland) we didn’t get to this healthly situation by using marine parks as the main management tool.
Phil, Can you provide some data to back up that statement?
Well, I have mentioned some in the above posts. Also there are various reports by our fisheries departments and comments by our fisheries scientists. It would take some time to go through them all but for example Qld recently anounced its fisheries review and found only one of the 60 or so fisheries to be overfished (snapper). Also NSW fisheries have been found to be stable. There is ample evidence that large areas are being hardly fished at all – eg the GBR, Coral Sea, NW of WA.
Would you be willing to go through them and present the evidence?
This is currently breaking news, relevant to the discussion:
Would you be willing to go through them and present the evidence?
I have refered to reviews of a couple of our fisheries departments so I have already provided more evidence than some of the marine park advocates here. I can put up some links if you like. How much effort I put in will depend on how much sensible debate I get from the other side of the argument (most of the assessments involve different species and there are multiple jurustictions).
It can’t be disputed that the fishing pressure in our EEZ is 1/20th of the World average. Also we are not lacking in primary productivity (ref; Seas Around Us Project UBC).
I think I’ll trust that the authors here know much more about trends in fish stocks than I do – both long and short term trends – and if my comments above were in factual error I am happy to be corrected by them.
I do think that those who put their immediate opportunities ahead of continuing sustainability have shown they will consistently fight measures that reduce them, including undermining public confidence in our scientists and in science based policy. If that’s what it takes for a leading politician to get some extra votes to win, goodbye science based policy. None of this surprises me – we have a quarry economy that favours maximising the short term extraction of natural resources over long term, sustainable production.
I can’t help but recall to mind an argument I had with a timber cutter who insisted there are more trees now than ever before (and therefore old growth forests are improved by logging) and by numbers he was right, at least near where I live; the earliest records showed forest with about 5 trees per acre. Numbers per acre in areas of regrowth (pretty much all that exists now) are vastly more than that now but none of them holds a candle to those giants or supports the biodiversity such forests once did or even have the economic value they once did. Whole species that were an essential part of that mix are absent – there’s little or no red cedar or white beech in that regrowth, or several other of the most highly prized timber trees. I think there are real parallels with our marine environment.
Phillip – I’m happy to debate the science behind Marine Parks in Australia (in particular the GBR), and to some extent the economics, but not emotive issues. Consider this an open platform for all sides of the debate.
Now Ken, I have quoted some of our fisheries scientists saying our fish stock are being fished sustainably and you don’t seem to have even acknowleged this, let alone ofered any counter evidence. Just because someone has a vested interest in this debate (eg being a fisherman) doesn’t invalidate their arguments. Often it just means they are sufficently motivated to actually look into the subject. People and groups behind the push for marine parks also have motives open to question. Green preservationist groups have been softening up the public for several years to get marine parks accepted, with dodgy claims of overfishing. If you want to see the difference between science and advocacy I suggest you read Pitcher and Forrest’s (University of British Columbia) rebutal of the “Empty Nets – Empty Oceans” ‘report’ on NSW fisheries (Hunter Community Environment Centre).
You comparison between forestry and fishing reveals a lack of understanding on how different the marine environment is. Predation is extremely high as is the ability of fish to reproduce. Fishermen are just another snout in the trough. If not overdone fishing does little harm to marine ecosystems as it is just culling a bit off the top of the ecosystem, not cutting at it’s base as with felling a forest.
I think the emotive aspects are what the current political debate is about; without them this wouldn’t have raised a ripple. Philip, I don’t believe Abbott’s primary motivation here is the long term sustainability of our marine environment or even of it’s commercial viability and it has nothing to do with the effectiveness of marine parks.
I know my forest analogy is only that but I don’t think it’s entirely inappropriate – in the absence of restrictions the more highly sought species have suffered most and some look unlikely to ever recover. What looks to most young Australians as enormous areas of untouched bush is a much diminished and degraded version, confined to areas that are generally unsuited to agriculture and really not comparable, even by relative distribution of primary tree species to the originals even within those areas.
But back to fishing – if restrictions of other kinds – size, species, quantity, methods, licencing – had not been applied the situation would be worse. Were those restrictions being proposed and applied now, I have little doubt that politicians would have been stirring up sentiment amongst the many fishermen who oppose any restrictions on their activities (as many have so far at every point) and with as little regard for science.
Don’t kid yourself Philip, Australia’s fish stocks are not what they once were.
Here are some links:
Misguided Claims of Overfishing in New South Wales: Comment on “Empty Oceans
Empty Nets. An evaluation of NSW fisheries catch statistics from 1940 to 2000”
Robyn Forrest and Tony J Pitcher
Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Faith Based Fisheries – Ray Hilborn
I can’t really argue with most of the above, and particularly appreciate this sentance:
“think the emotive aspects are what the current political debate is about; without them this wouldn’t have raised a ripple.”
There is emototion on both sides of the debate, Ken. Leaving that aside there is a cost to marine parks and just because you don’t consider yourself affected you can’t just dismiss it. People will (and have) lose their livelyhoods over this.
“I know my forest analogy is only that but I don’t think it’s entirely inappropriate – in the absence of restrictions the more highly sought species have suffered most and some look unlikely to ever recover.”
Not true. The most overfished species in Australia tend to be those which are vulnerable because of their biology, ie slow growth rates or slow reproduction rates (eg some species of sharks), and not the most popular species.
“I have little doubt that politicians would have been stirring up sentiment amongst the many fishermen who oppose any restrictions on their activities (as many have so far at every point) and with as little regard for science.”
Not true. Many past initiatives have been well accepted by fishermen, after all except for a few they want a future for their occupation/ pastime. Also you are wrong about the groundswell against marine parks. It’s a grassroots phenomenon – not the result of ‘stirring up’ by politicians. As to science you keep suggesting it is all on the side of marine parks (without offering evidence) – this merely indicates you have a bias on the subject.
Oh yes there was this gem:
“Don’t kid yourself Philip, Australia’s fish stocks are not what they once were.”
The only way they had to go was down. As the UBC pointed out some deline from the unfished state is to be expected in any significant fishery and has nothing to do with the long term sustainability of the fishery. Removing a proportion of fish actually benifits younger age classes as they have less competion for food and less predation. Fish grow faster under fishing pressure. Maxiumum sustainable yield is usually regarded when the stock is fished down to around 30-40% of the virgin spawning biomass.
Admin has strung together the following quotes from the UBC paper in way which is out of context and potentially misleading. I have put my clarification below each quote:
>”We do not question that there are conservation concerns for many species in NSW”.
The authors then mentioned that these were gemfish and some shark species. The shark species are not a signficant part of the NSW fishery or a main target species as Ken suggested. Pitcher and Forrest did not recommend marine parks as an effective way of conserving them. Indeed as far as recreational fishing is concerned they have a zero bag limit. The other species mentioned is gemfish – for which the commercial fishery is all but closed. Although depleted the gemfish is unlikely to become endangered.
>”We also do not question that recreational fisheries in NSW are large and are likely to impact the abundance of a number of marine species”.
Any significant fishing effort affects the abundance of marine species. Maximum sustainable yeild is usually regarded as 30- 40% of the virgin spawning biomass.
> “The public has generally been slow to realise that recreational harvests may, in some cases, equal or exceed commercial harvests”.
They also have been slow to realise that the commercial effort is small with only 1000 commercial fishermen in NSW waters and the fact that NSW imports 91% of it’s seafood!
>”In Australia, as in the rest of the world, there are legitimate concerns for conservation of our marine environments and sustainability of seafood resources. In many of the world’s collapsed fish stocks, fishing pressure was not regulated at a constant or near constant rate and harvest rates continued to rise as stock biomass decreased
>We would argue that NSW DPI has made efforts to address these types of problems and is at least moving in the right direction towards greater sustainability of its fisheries”.
They have made quite a bit of effort in this direction with the reduction in commercial fishermen from 7000 in the 1990’s to 1000 today and the fact that fish are now being caught at half the rate since then by commercial fishermen.
>”Not surprisingly, the public are not, in general, well- informed about the details of fisheries science and should not be expected to be able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources”.
That’s why they have been so easy to hoodwink on marine parks!
For the sake of balance here are a few more quotes from Pitcher & Forrest:
Marine protected areas are widely cited as a precautionary management method to bufferagainst the effects of fishing (e.g., Allison et al. 1998). Their efficacy will be determined by a wide range of localised factors, particularly the degree to which fish move and the spatial
structure of fished populations. Marine protected areas will also be more effective if they have the support of local communities (Hilborn 2004). Blanket recommendations for the necessary area to be protected are therefore meaningless. The size and location of spatial closures should be determined on a case-by-case basis if costly, unpopular and ineffective protected areas are to be avoided.
There have been major changes to the ways in which fisheries in NSW have been managed
over the past decade, many of these to address concerns about continued sustainability of the state’s marine resources. There have been two major government buy-outs of commercial fishing licenses (both acknowledged in the HCEC report), the most recent in concert with the closure of 30 estuarine areas to commercial fishing. Management Advisory Committees (MACs), made up of a broad range of representative stakeholders are now a feature of all the
fisheries of NSW. Data quality issues are gradually being addressed and practical methods to assess the complex fisheries in NSW are being developed (e.g., Scandol 2004). NSW DPI has also entered into collaborative partnership with two major institutions (Fisheries
Centre, University of British Columbia; and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) to help clarify the issues of ecosystem-based fisheriesmanagement through data analysis and computer simulation. Both of these projects involve
bringing together all available data for the fisheries of NSW so that questions about sustainability and ecosystem-based fisheries management can be addressed in a rigorous and defensible way.
For the reasons outlined in the previous sections, we believe the Hunter Community Environment Centre report is poorly formulated, lacks rigour and provides no evidence to support its claims, except (for some species known to be of conservation concern) citation of
works already published by NSW DPI. As already noted, oversimplistic interpretation of trends in landings alone, at best, is liable to provide an incomplete picture of the status of the fishery and, at worst, serves to perpetrate confusion and misinformation. Publication of the report’s findings in the Sydney Morning Herald (April 14, 2006), which announced that the state’s fisheries are “on the edge of collapse”, sparked accusatory responses from members of the
public accusing different sectors of irresponsible fishing practices (SMH April 17, 2006). The report’s credibility was not questioned. Not surprisingly, the public are not, in general, well informed
about the details of fisheries science and should not be expected to be able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.