Fishing Allowed In Marine Parks After 'Disgraceful' Backdown

The government believed fishing was a "low risk" to the survival of marine areas.

Fishing will be allowed in NSW marine parks after all, after a policy backdown from the state government following pressure from anglers and the upstart Shooters party.

The NSW government has been talking up its new proposal to protect 25 ocean sites around the Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle regions. Under the plan, sites would have received differing levels of protection, with some popular fishing spots to have had strong restrictions on spearfishing or angling.

(AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Environmentalists had criticised the plan for not going far enough, while fishers said the proposal was too heavy-handed. In response to the plan, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party  -- a minor party in NSW which has had success in chipping away parts of the Liberal government's vote -- announced plans to run in inner-city seats, which the mostly rural and regional party had not done before.

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“They will not be happy until all forms of recreational fishing are banned so they can appease their inner city Green voters,” claimed Shooters Party MP Robert Borsak.

A humpback whale breaching near Sydney Heads (AAP Image/Woosh)

On Monday, the government announced a backdown on the proposal, saying the marine park policy would not impinge on the rights of fisherfolk.

“The feedback we have received has been robust but vital to being able to make this decision today. While consultation will continue, I felt it was paramount to allay the uncertainty and fear the fishing industry is currently experiencing,” said Primary Industries minister Niall Blair.

“I am a keen fisherman myself and understand both the economic and social values the industry brings to our state."

In an earlier 2GB Radio interview, Blair claimed "It was doing damage to the sector... It was causing a lot of fear and it’s off the table today."

Blair added in a later statement that the government believed fishing was a "low risk" to the survival of marine areas.

What is now clear is that their proposed management methods and in some cases the sizes of the sites, offered up a narrow option that unfairly impacted on low risk activities, such as fishing and spear-fishing.

"Today’s decision does not change the fact we are still working towards a marine park that protects key marine habitats, species and the environment we all know and love."

A whale breaches off Sydney Harbour (AAP Image/ Captain Cook Cruises)

In response, the NSW Greens called the decision "disgraceful".

"This is an anti-environment, anti-science Government who has shown they will always pander to vested interests over the best interests of the entire community," said state Greens MP Justin Field.

“A majority of the community backs protecting our marine environment and coastline and this proposal for a network of protected areas, including marine sanctuaries, would help deliver healthy oceans and fish for the future. To walk away from the marine network plan before the consultation process even concluded is a massive breach of community trust."

“There has been a concerted effort by vested political, industry and media interests to pressure Liberal/National MPs in marginal seats and it is disappointing the Government has allowed these interests to undermine democracy and the consultation process in this way."

Consultation on the proposal remains open until September 27.