A leading north-coast ecologist has described a state government decision to allow the continuation of angling off rocky Cape Byron as ‘madness’, especially given the dangerous nature of the environment.
The government quietly announced on Friday that it was revoking a controversial lifting of fishing bans in marine sanctuaries around the state announced last year.
But, in an olive branch to the recreational fishing lobby, the government will continue to allow fishing in a limited number of areas that are especially popular with recreational anglers.
One of those is East Cape Byron and another is off the beach at Tyagarah Nature Reserve. Both areas lie within the highly fragile Cape Byron Marine Park zone.
Local conservationist Dailan Pugh has welcomed the government’s decision to restore protection to 58 per cent of Cape Byron’s sanctuary zones, while deploring what he described as ‘the major reduction in coastal sanctuaries down to less than three per cent of NSW’s coastline’.
The government’s decision came just weeks after a congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Sydney committed to increasing areas under protection to 30 per cent.
Mr Pugh said it was ‘great to see protection restored to Belongil, Wategos, Broken Head and the Moat. It is a shame that eight years’ worth of protection benefits were undone due to National Party ideology. It will take a long time to undo the damage that was done.
‘The ocean coastline of the Cape Byron Marine Park is 40km, this decision reduces the proportion of the coast included in sanctuary zones down from 24 per cent (9.6km ) to 14 per cent (5.6km). These reduced sanctuary zones represent less than three per cent of the 200km of coast north from the Solitary Islands Marine Park to the Queensland border,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘This decision leaves the Tyagarah beach and Cape Byron sanctuary zones open for fishing. Tyagarah beach was protected as the least fished sample of a long and wide sandy ocean beach where natural processes could be restored. We need some of our beaches protected from fishing,’ he added.
‘The Cape Byron section encompasses some 400m of cliffs from the easterly point to the lighthouse; surely it is madness to encourage anybody to fish there.’
The sanctuary zones in the Cape Byron Marine Park have been protected since 2005.
The amnesty on fishing in these areas will be maintained while the government rezones these sites into ‘habitat protection zones’.
‘In an act of political bastardry in March 2013 the National Party announced that, without any assessment of the consequences, shore-based fishing would be allowed in all of NSW’s sanctuary zones,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘This was supposedly for only six months while a review was undertaken and yet it has taken over 20 months for the government to recognise that they were wrong and restore protection to two-thirds of sanctuary zones,’ he added.
‘The recent IUCN World Parks Congress, attended by 6,000 participants from more than 170 countries, released as an outcome the Promise of Sydney, which included a commitment to increase the ocean area that is strictly protected to at least 30 per cent of each marine habitat.
‘The NSW Government’s decision a month later to reduce the already inadequate protection of coastal marine habitats down to less than a tenth of this commitment makes a mockery of the Promise of Sydney,’ Mr Pugh said.
Too little too late
NSW Greens environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has meanwhile described the government’s decision as ‘too little too late’.
‘The government has spent the last almost 20 months quite deliberately dithering on this issue to the detriment of the marine environment,’ Dr Faruqi said.
‘Whilst I welcome the removal of the amnesty on many beaches, around a third of these protected areas will now have fishing permanently allowed.
‘The science says that allowing fishing in these sanctuary zones for the last 19 months will have significantly undermined the marine park ecology.
‘This is in effect a decision to remove a third of our precious sanctuary zones from the marine parks system.
‘The government proclaims it is sticking to the science, but perhaps they should have thought about that before declaring the amnesty, not after.