In a matter of weeks, the Federal Government will unveil the final boundaries of one of the world’s most ambitious marine park projects.
Stretching from Kangaroo Island in South Australia to WA’s Abrolhos Islands, the South-West marine park plan will rival the Great Barrier Reef marine reserve system in its vastness.
Fishing and conservation groups, equally critical of the draft proposal but for completely different reasons, are waiting with bated breath.
For commercial and recreational fishers, the biggest question is whether the new park will compound the growing restrictions on when and where they can go fishing.
Last month, the WA Government revealed a long-awaited marine park in state waters between Geographe north of Busselton and Flinders Bay east of Augusta.
The park, known as Ngari Capes, contained more than 10 so-called sanctuary zones, in which all forms of fishing, and oil and gas drilling are banned.
The federal proposal is not expected to overlap the state park but may line up with it, creating a vast protected area.
The WA Fishing Industry Council’s Guy Leyland says the federal proposal, which covers waters three nautical miles to 200 nautical miles out to sea, will make it even more difficult for fishers to earn a living in the South West.
“There are people who have already been impacted by the Ngari Capes park,” he said.
“There’s been a reduction in the areas where people are able to fish, where their businesses are, in part, dependent upon, some of these businesses will be faced with adjustment plans.
“It will be a bureaucratic nightmare for the fishers that have to negotiate, having to think about the state and federal reserves.”
Recfishwest acting chief executive Andrew Rowland is another concerned about the federal plans.
He says from a bio-diversity-conservation perspective, there is no need to have highly restrictive no-take zones.
In light of the State Government’s decision to lock up parts of Geographe Bay as no-take zones, Dr Rowland is particularly concerned about how their federal counterparts will treat the popular fishing spot.
“We think that large sanctuary zones [in Geographe Bay] would have major impacts on recreational fishing in the South West,” he said.
“It would also flow on to having impacts on tourism and the regional economy; Geographe Bay, in particular, presents extremely safe boating waters, it’s a popular tourist destination.
“Recreational fishing is one of the key activities for why people go to that particular part of that particular region.
“All we are asking is that commonsense prevail.”
The Conservation Council of WA’s marine co-ordinator, Tim Nicol, also believes the Federal Government’s draft proposal is inadequate but not because it is too harsh on anglers.
Rather, he feels the plan touted by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke as a breakthrough in marine conservation does not go far enough and leaves too many important areas unprotected.
Mr Nicol disputes claims that no-take zones unfairly affect anglers, saying conservation and fishing can easily co-exist.
“When you look at the reality of when marine sanctuaries are created, you look at Ningaloo Reef, you look at the Great Barrier Reef that have very high levels of conservation,” he said.
“Rec fishers and commercial fishers are still fishing and still having good fishing experiences alongside some excellent conservation results.
“There’s a lot of room to move to have more conservation before fishermen need to start being worried about their activities.”
Mr Nicol says extra sanctuary zones in Geographe Bay was one of the council’s key requests in its submission to the Federal Government following the draft plan’s release.