|ISSUE NO. 3603 

January 18 - 24, 2013


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Controversy at world’s largest
marine reserves project

Together the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral
Sea Commonwealth marine reserve will become the largest
adjoining marine protected area in the world


SYDNEY (Xinhua) -- Australia ’s marine park network is under renewed focus after the government was accused this week of attempting to silence those opposed to the world’s largest marine reserves project.

The Federal shadow minister for Tourism and Regional Development Bob Baldwin called on the government to immediately extend the time and scope of Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network management review.

After firebrand National Senator Barnaby Joyce told journalists in July that Australia will have to import more seafood because of the reserves, the government has given the public just a month to comment on the new Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network.

“The reality for Australian people is we import 72 percent of our seafood. Therefore, you’re exporting your environmental problem to another country,” Joyce said.

Baldwin told Xinhua that the government’s announcement to allow only 30 days for invitation only demonstrates an “utter contempt and a total lack of understanding” of the long-term social and economic implications that these lockouts will have.

“The consultation process appears to be nothing more than window dressing and only highlights this Labor-Green government’s inability to act in the best interests of Australians,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said thousands of jobs and businesses throughout Australia are “being jeopardized because of inconsistent and flawed policy based not on scientific rationalization but political ineptitude and pandering to minority agendas.”

Commercial and recreational fishing are important economic drivers for Australia , contributing billions of dollars to the Australian economy. Many regional coastal communities around Australia rely on commercial and tourism based boating and fishing activities for their survival.

“As member for Paterson and Shadow Minister for Tourism and Regional Development, I understand only too well how important commercial and recreational fishing is to coastal communities, like Port Stephens and the Great Lakes area,” Baldwin said.

The marine reserves take the overall size of Australia ’s Commonwealth marine reserves network to 3.1 million square kilometers, by far the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world.

The network is made up of five zones surrounding every state and territory across Australia with the Western Australian coast split into a north-west and a south-west network, with 13 reserves in the north and 14 in the south.

Spokesman from the Environment Department, Charlton Clark, told journalists that stakeholders will have until mid-February to contribute to the nuts and bolts of the massive scheme.

“We’ve run several consultation processes to date seeking their views on where the boundaries of reserves should be and what zones and activities should and shouldn’t be allowed,” he said. “This next step takes us into the more detailed arrangements of how permits arrangements should be issued, what are the objectives for the reserves, what are the strategies and actions,” Clark added.

Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke told Xinhua in June that the marine reserves are a world first and will only have a small impact on commercial fishing.

“There’s still a further stage of working out the management plan to specify what fishing gear will be permitted in each area,” he said.

Together the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral Sea Commonwealth marine reserve will become the largest adjoining marine protected area in the world.

“The principle is the same as national parks - to have some parts of our ocean that are simply protected for nature. There are some areas where you’ve got fishing still continuing but some activities such as trawling are banned,” Clark said.

The government has said Aussie businesses impacted by the changes will be able to access 100 million Australian dollars in assistance.

However, Shadow Minister Baldwin said there is simply not enough of an opportunity for the Australian public to share in the decision making process, accusing the government of colluding with the influential Greens party.

“It is only through comprehensive consultation and acknowledgment of validated scientific data that sustainable economic and environmental policy can be achieved,” Baldwin said.

“It’s time Tony Burke and the his Labor colleagues started standing up for Australians instead of bowing to their Green Coalition partners and locking Australians out of their own country.” Baldwin added.


Shark sanctuary campaigner calls for
preservation of Pacific eco-system

WELLINGTON (Xinhua) -- A New Zealand marine scientist who successfully campaigned for the creation of the world’s largest shark sanctuary in the Cook Islands says sharks will soon be able to swim through a band of protected areas in the tropical Pacific region, although the species is still at risk from over fishing elsewhere in the Pacific.

Last month, the Cook Islands government declared the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.997 million square kilometers, an area the size of Mexico , a sanctuary for sharks and rays and introduced the world’s toughest shark conservation penalties.

Minister of Marine Resources Teina Bishop announced the shark sanctuary regulations, saying the people of the Cook Islands could “feel very proud that our nation is now a global leader in environment protection.”

It was the culmination of an 18-month grassroots campaign led by Stephen Lyon, founder of the Rarotonga-based Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI), who was alarmed at the decline in shark numbers due to the growing demand for shark fins.

However, Lyon told Xinhua on Wednesday that more international cooperation was needed to manage fisheries across the vast Pacific Ocean .

The Cook Islands sanctuary followed steps by Palau and French Polynesia to protect sharks, and would eventually become part of a tropical band of sanctuaries in the EEZs of Pacific Island nations, said Lyon .

“The real problem areas are north and south of the tropics, where large stretches of International waters are fished by distant water fishing nations, with little regard for sustainability and by catch management,” Lyon said in an e-mail interview.

“In the long term all commercially targeted fish, including shark, will need much more stringent management in these international waters. Shark and billfish are particularly vulnerable to overfishing in these areas as they migrate from tropical to temperate waters.”

The Cook Islands government imposed tough penalties, ranging from 100,000 to 250,000 NZ dollars (83,977 to 209,943 U.S. dollars) per offense for both the master and the owner of the offending vessel, with the forfeiture of a valuable Cook Islands fishing license for a repeat offense.

“An offense is deemed to be any shark part found, so a few fins could be prosecuted as several offences,” said Lyon .

The rules banning the sale, targeting, trade and possession of sharks aboard all commercial fishing or trans-shipment vessels within the Cook Islands EEZ were strongly opposed by foreign commercial fishing interests, said Lyon .

“Our local pelagic fishing companies support shark protection and have been a great source of information for us,” he said.

“The pressure from foreign interests went unseen, but not unfelt by us. Therefore, it was very hard to pinpoint where, when and how their pressure was exerted. However, if it were not for the barriers put up by a few, this achievement would have happened a lot earlier.”

The PICI countered with a grassroots campaign, including a petition, letters to the government and consultations with each community aimed at educating local people, who already had a culture of respecting sharks as “guardians,” he said.

“Like most of the international community, many local Cook Islanders had a duality when they thought about sharks. They saw them as dangerous animals, not to be approached, but also saw them as part of their culture and of the ecosystem,” said Lyon .

“Most concerns voiced were from community-based fishermen,” he said.

“It was actually quite touching to see these men express their frustration at sharks, who can be considered pests when they take tuna from their lines, but then support shark protection, as they see the shark has a place in the sea.”

Of the 18 recorded shark species in Cook Islands waters, 13 are listed as threatened, and five as endangered or vulnerable.

Sharks most at risk were the endangered scalloped hammerhead, which had suffered a 90-percent drop in numbers in recent years, along with pelagic sharks such as the oceanic white tip, mako species, thresher species, blue shark and the silky shark, which fed in similar zones to tuna.

Catch rates of sharks could be reduced by using specific fishing gear, and the regulations would be enforced through existing fisheries management, including observer coverage at ports of discharge, onboard observers, log sheet monitoring and surveillance operations by the Cook Islands and neighboring countries.

“Any effort that increases the transparency of on-board operations, accurate reporting of catch and enforcement of regulations against those that break them will be welcomed,” said Lyon .

“Presently fisheries monitoring in general is seeing improvements through technology, and it may not be too far off that we see live video streams of catches being landed as a requirement of a fishing license.”


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