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Is the Marine Park Bill Unfair to Fishermen?

The Government recently released more specifics concerning the South Australian Marine Park bill. To the surprise of almost nobody, almost nobody actually likes the bill or the map that came with it. In the bill, South Australia will have 19 designated “Marine Parks.” These Marine Parks will have varied restrictions on fishing, including over 140 no-take zones.
Marine Park Bill

There are so many factors involved here that more than one book would be necessary to fully cover all sides of the argument, so we are just going to stick to some basics. On the Government’s side are the conservationists, whose goal is to increase fish stocks and stop harming the environment. On the other side is pretty much every fisherman who has ever taken a boat out to fish.

The pro-Marine Park side’s argument sounds great on the surface. They want to ensure that fishing is restricted to what they call the “maximum ecologically sustainable yield.” Their definition of “maximum ecologically sustainable yield” is that fish stocks must equal “60-80% of the unfished biomass.” According to a statement from marine biologist Josh Coates, “we only actually need to reduce (fishing) by around 15-30%” to achieve maximum ecologically sustainable yield.

In other words, catching 15-30% less fish will bring the ocean back up to the level of maximum ecologically sustainable yield. Coates also calls for less pollution, improved management of fisheries, and a re-examination of “destructive fishing practices” such as excessive by-catch. Excessive by-catch refers to the practice of some fisheries discarding more dead fish than those that eventually become food.

This sounds wonderful, and is a great goal. But do the current proposed laws really accomplish those goals? If so, who is affected more: the big businesses who do most of the polluting and destructive fishing practices with their big commercial boats, or the “little guy” who fishes to support his family? And where does recreational fishing fit in? Most of all, what is the other side of the story?

The other side of the story, plain and simple, is that it’s the little guy who is going to suffer here. Some fishermen estimate that they will have to take boats 7 km further out to sea to fish legally, and many will have their favourite fishing spots taken away if the proposed Marine Parks are enacted in their current form.

Big companies are going to do fine under this system. They have the money to simply find another place to fish. It will cost them money to do it, but they have plenty of money, and they won’t really suffer any great hardship by having to go 7-10 km out into the ocean to fish. Any additional costs will be absorbed by the consumer in the form of higher prices.

This raises a question: what about the individual fisherman? What about the small company with anywhere from one boat to a small “fleet” that fishes responsibly, and makes a decent living while protecting the environment? What about the recreational fisherman who wants to go out, catch a few fish, and have a tasty feast when he gets home?

We admire the goals of the Government and the conservationists. We understand that they want less pollution, less waste, and more fish. We want the same things. We just don’t think that the Marine Parks are the best way to accomplish those goals. It seems like whenever the Government gets involved, it’s always big business that benefits and the little guy who suffers. This proposal is a perfect example.

So, what would we do? First of all, if the Government wants to stop pollution and excessive by-catch, and other destructive fishing practices, such as overfishing, why not make them illegal and enforce the law? Is it the little guy who is overfishing? Is it the little guy who is polluting? Is it the mid-sized local business with a small fleet of boats that is depleting our natural resources? Of course not; it’s the big businesses.

So why is it the little guy who has to pay for what the monolithic commercial fisheries are doing to the environment? Why can’t the government find a way to make the people who are actually causing most of the damage pay for it, and let those who are fishing responsibly continue to do so?

We don’t want to turn this into an exercise in cynicism, or a rant about senseless regulations, so we won’t, but we would be shirking our responsibility to our customers if we didn’t weigh in here. Supposedly, the government is taking feedback from citizens into consideration, but it certainly doesn’t look like the protests of countless local fishermen in virtually every affected area is being taken the least bit seriously.

A fisherman’s voice should count for something.

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