Cousteau urges action on fishing

The son of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau has urged Australia to protect its marine environment as a way to ensure the future viability of the fishing industry.

Speaking to The Age from his base in California, Jean-Michel Cousteau said protected marine national parks help restore the planet’s dwindling fish stocks, allowing fishermen to reap the ”spill over” benefits and ensure their long-term sustainability.

Mr Cousteau’s plea comes as the opposition vows to halt immediately the introduction of marine conservation parks around Australia if it forms government, saying the process would hurt commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Mr Cousteau, like his father, is an ocean explorer and filmmaker and in 2006 famously convinced former US President George Bush to establish the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, which was, at the time, the largest marine protected area in the world.

”I am on the side of the fisherman,” Mr Cousteau said.

”I want to protect them. I’m not opposed to fishing, I’m opposed to them taking more than nature can produce.”

Australia’s commitment to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean and seas – started by Howard government environment minister Robert Hill – became a major political issue during this year’s election campaign. The opposition has committed to halting ”bioregional planning” to identify the best places for marine conservation parks, vowing to restructure the process to give better balance to industries that use the sea.

The Coalition pledge was strongly backed by fishing groups, which ran television advertising campaigns in key marginal seats.

Labor has vowed to continue to introduce the marine protection zones.

In reference to the Coalition, Mr Cousteau said he would like to sit down with them to explain the science and benefits of marine conservation parks for both the environment and fishermen.

He pointed to Hawaiian Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who campaigned actively against marine parks, before changing her mind, becoming one of the biggest advocates for the Papahanaumokuakea monument and helping Mr Cousteau lobby President Bush.

”Because marine parks protect breeding grounds and produce larger populations of fish, the fisherman can catch the spill-over in areas outside the park,” he said.

Mr Cousteau said the world had not adequately protected the oceans, which make up 70 per cent of the planet, and 10 per cent of the world’s marine environment should be protected. His next movie will highlight the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the dangers of deep sea oil drilling for marine life and the fishing industry.