EcoNetwork provides feedback on the Commonwealth Marine Parks Review
This submission is in response to the Government’s request for feedback on the process for reviewing the management of Commonwealth Marine Parks that were established in 2012 as described on your website:
“The Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review is underway following the setting aside of the management plans that were scheduled to come into effect in July 2014.”
However, there is no specific reason stated on your website for “setting aside of the management plans” less than two years after they were properly legislated. All unreferenced quotations in this submission come from the marine reserves review website or Commonwealth government documents hyper-linked to it.
The forty new Commonwealth marine reserves were proclaimed and managed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, as were many previous Commonwealth marine reserves. The management plans for the marine reserves established under this existing legislation were based on goals and principles which stipulate the use of “best available science” and “genuine consultation” to protect marine ecosystems and biodiversity within “some highly protected areas (IUCN Categories I and II) in each provincial bioregion” which we refer to as sanctuary zones.
The terms of reference for this Review make general reference to “allowed uses”, “threats to marine biodiversity”, “areas of contention”, “social and economic considerations” and “regional stakeholders”. We believe the specific terms of reference for this Review were stated in the 16 December 2013 joint media release by Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Richard Colbeck, entitled: “Supporting recreational fishing while protecting our marine parks”. This media release clearly indicates that the primary terms of reference for this Review are all related to allowing recreational fishing in sanctuary zones.
We believe this Review follows the successful process established by the New South Wales government to allow recreational fishing in sanctuary zones within NSW marine parks. In order for the government to legislate to allow recreational fishing in Commonwealth marine sanctuaries you will need to recommend how to amend the EPBC Act 1999 goals and principles to replace “protect marine biodiversity” with “conduct socio-economic risk assessment”. You will also need to provide environmental impact information for recreational fishing methods that satisfies the Intergovernmental
Agreement on the Environment, 1992 requirement for an “assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options” on the environment and biodiversity within the sanctuary zones.
In conclusion, we question the validity and usefulness of any recommendations from a review of marine reserve management that was commissioned after the government has publically announced that it intends to allow recreational fishing in marine reserve sanctuary zones.
EcoNetwork Port Stephens Inc. is the sustainability and conservation based peak body for a regional network of environmentally concerned individuals and 17 affiliated community, environmental and eco-tourism groups and businesses; composing a total membership of approximately 2000. Our primary focus is on community and environmental issues in the Port Stephens region, but we also address more global issues that impact on this region.
As stated on your Marine Reserves Review website: “In November 2012, forty new Commonwealth marine reserves were proclaimed in the South-west, North-west, North, Temperate East and Coral Sea marine regions, completing the Australian Government’s contribution to Australia’s national system of marine protected areas.” “The Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review is underway following the setting aside of the management plans that were scheduled to come into effect in July 2014.”
However, there is no specific reason stated on your website for “setting aside of the management plans” less than two years after they were properly legislated, other than the very vague statement: “The Review is being conducted to consider what management arrangements will best protect our marine environment and accommodate the many activities that Australians love to enjoy in our oceans.” This unsubstantiated innuendo implies that the existing legislated management plans do not protect our marine environment and accommodate human activities. This is followed by more innuendo implying that the legislated management plans were not based on “genuine consultation” and the “best available science”.
Until 2013, all Commonwealth marine reserves have been proclaimed and managed under the EPBC Act 1999, which requires that statutory management plans be developed and implemented by the Director of National Parks. The Commonwealth government statement of “Goals and Principles” for this process is “to establish and effectively manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of marine reserves to contribute to the long-term conservation of marine ecosystems and to protect marine biodiversity.” Key inputs into the process include: “existing scientific information underlying IMCRA v.4.0 (e.g. bathymetry, geomorphic features, distribution of endemic biota); additional regional information on habitats, species distribution and ecology gathered during the marine bioregional planning process; data on the location and distribution of human activities in a marine region; views of ocean users and stakeholders in each marine region; consideration of the contribution that existing spatial management measures can make to the NRSMPA and consideration of potential management effectiveness (e.g. feasibility of compliance).” “The regional marine reserve network will aim to include some highly protected areas (IUCN Categories I and II) in each provincial bioregion” where extractive human activities such as recreational fishing are prohibited in sanctuary zones, such as “strict nature reserve (IUCN Ia): managed primarily for scientific research or environmental monitoring” and “National Park (IUCN II): protected and managed to preserve its natural condition”. Now, after this process has been applied to the entire set of Commonwealth Marine Parks you are saying this process is flawed and needs to be reviewed but you do not provide any specific documentation or description of the flaws.
The terms of reference for the review provide some clues that may help to explain why the legislated management plans are being discarded, but again they are very vague. Key words are: “allowed uses consistent with the Goals and Principles”; “threats to marine biodiversity within the marine reserves”; “information gaps hindering robust, evidence-based decision-making”; “areas of contention with the marine reserves”; “address those areas of contention”; “inclusion of social and economic considerations into decision-making for marine reserves”; “ongoing engagement of regional stakeholders”. The casual reader will probably not detect the common link between these key words unless they have previously read the 16 December 2013 joint media release by Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Richard Colbeck, entitled: “Supporting recreational fishing while protecting our marine parks”. It becomes clear that the perceived flaw in the original management plan and the common link between key words in the terms of reference are all related to recreational fishing in sanctuary zones. The true terms of reference for the Review are clearly stated in the first three lines of the media release: “The Coalition Government is delivering a key election promise by scrapping Labor’s plan to lock out recreational fishers from key coastal areas around the country. We are protecting the marine reserves but rejecting the flawed plans. The Government has acted to prevent Labor’s flawed marine management plans from locking out fishers.”
The only Commonwealth marine reserve zones that recreational fishers are currently “locked out of” are IUCN category I and II marine sanctuaries, therefore it is blatantly obvious that the Commonwealth government, led by the Minister for the Environment, is following the template for allowing recreational fishing in marine park sanctuary zones that was successfully developed by the State government of New South Wales: 1) implement a review of marine park management using the same Review Panel Chairman (Associate professor Bob Beeton) and Co-Chairman (Professor Colin Buxton) that were used in NSW, 2) the Review provides recommendations for establishing a multi-departmental government steering committee for management of the “Marine Estate” along with an associated “expert panel” composed of economists, socio-economists and a token conservation biologist or ecologist. Further recommendations from the Review highlight the lack of scientific information about some habitats in marine reserve sanctuary zones and promote the use of socio-economic risk analysis rather than biodiversity risk analysis or environmental impact studies 4) the Minister for the Environment announces acceptance of the review recommendations in a media release and adds the political announcement of a compliance “amnesty” allowing recreational fishing in some or all marine park sanctuary zones, which is justified by “information gaps” identified by the review, 5) the Minister then announces that within six months of its formation the “expert panel” will do a socio-economic risk analysis on amnesty zones to justify legislation that permits recreational fishers to continue removing the largest fish from sanctuary zones.
We believe that the forty most recent Commonwealth marine reserves and their management plans were established under the EPBC Act 1999 with valid and adequate goals and principles for applying genuine public consultation and the best available science. The primary intent of this Act is to establish marine reserves with sanctuary zones that “contribute to the long term conservation of marine ecosystems and to protect marine biodiversity”. If recreational fishing is given priority over protection of marine diversity in sanctuary zones because of the “inclusion of social and economic considerations” then the first recommended change in the management scheme from this Review must be to amend the EPBC Act 1999 to reflect this basic change in the goals and principles of the Act.
Recreational fishing has been prohibited in marine reserve sanctuary zones through the application of the internationally accepted precautionary principle which has been legislated in Australia through the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IAE), 1992. We believe that removal of the largest fish from a marine reserve by recreational fishers has the potential to cause “serious or irreversible damage to the environment” (IAE, 1992) but the Minister for the Environment will argue that this is not a “full scientific certainty” (IAE, 1992). Therefore, before recreational fishing is allowed in sanctuary zones the Minister must implement an “assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options” (IAE, 1992) on the environment and biodiversity within the sanctuary zone. This risk-weighted assessment must be based on environmental impact information on recreational fishing methods that focuses primarily on the environment and biodiversity within Commonwealth marine reserve sanctuary zones, not simply expert panel risk assessment of socio-economic values. We are unaware of any Environmental Impact Statements for any recreational fishing methods in Australia. If you recommend that recreational fishing should be allowed in Commonwealth marine reserves (sanctuary zones), then you must specifically address this lack of Environmental Impact Statements for recreational fishing methods among the “information gaps hindering robust, evidence-based decision-making for the management of marine reserves”.
In light of the obvious desire of the Commonwealth government to allow recreational fishing in Commonwealth marine reserve sanctuary zones, we believe that you must address the recreational fishing issues highlighted in this submission in your final report and recommendations. However, we question the validity and usefulness of any recommendations from a review of marine reserve management that was commissioned after the government has announced that it intends to allow recreational fishing in marine reserve sanctuary zones.
Dr Bruce Pease, President
Nigel Dique, Secretary
Darrell Dawson, Co-ordinator
16 February 2015