Stakeholders criticise reserve proposal

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says the Government has not yet decided which industries could be excluded from areas of its proposed marine reserves.

The Government has set a 2012 deadline for establishing a series of protected marine areas off northern Australia.

Mr Garrett says with careful regulation, some industries – including oil and gas – will be allowed to operate in some parts of the protected areas.

“We can achieve adequate protection of marine conservation areas and in some places have multiple use areas which are managed very, very carefully to make sure that the environmental values are intact,” he said.

But the members of the fishing industry fear the Government’s plan for protected areas will put many boat owners out of business.

The Northern Territory Seafood Council’s chief executive, Rob Fish, says fishermen are worried they will be locked out of the reserves, while the oil and gas industry will not.

“My concern straight there would be that they focus on the easy targets. We don’t have the money that the oil and gas industry has to protect ourselves,” he said.

“It’s very easy to take such a diverse industry as the seafood industry and knock us out and give yourself the green tick.

“If you are going to do this, the process needs to be based around science and it has to be based around all the impacts that are there, and our concern at the moment is that that’s just not the case.”

‘No consultation’

Meanwhile, green groups say the Government looks unlikely to meet its 2012 deadline for establishing the protected marine areas.

Protected areas have already been established off other jurisdictions.

The Marine Conservation Society’s Prue Barnard says the Government has not yet consulted with stakeholders as it promised, so plans for the marine reserves cannot progress.

“The Commonwealth Government is definitely letting the timeframe slip which often makes me wonder whether this is a political process rather than a biodiversity and conservation process,” she said.

“It would be nice if they would let us know what is happening rather than sitting in Canberra working away with the door shut.”

However, Mr Garrett says the Government has been involved in consultation with stakeholders.

He says despite the need for more consultation the Government will try to meet its 2012 deadline.

“Well we are firmly committed to having a set of representative marine protected areas in place by 2012 but I expect there will be additional consultation as well,” he said.

“It will be an intense process but it will be a thorough process and we will aim to reach the 2012 timetable.”