The first ever 10-year plan for the New South Wales marine environment has sparked a debate about whether further protections are needed along a large stretch of the state’s coastline.
The Marine Estate Management Authority has released a draft document for public comment, outlining eight initiatives to improve the marine environment.
They include ramping up measures to improve water quality and reduce litter, with water pollution identified as the biggest threat.
It also focuses on sustainable fishing and aquaculture, noting that recreational fishing alone generates about $3.4 billion of annual economic activity and about 14,000 full-time jobs across coastal NSW.
But fishing was also identified as a threat to “particular environmental assets”, and new harvest and risk management strategies are being proposed for fisheries that have moderate and high-risk levels.
NSW Department of Primary Industries program leader for marine strategy Nicola Johnstone said the plan aimed to strike a balance.
“It’s looking to promote economic growth as well as balancing conservation,” Ms Johnstone said.
The document mentions the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion — a massive stretch of coastline from Newcastle to Wollongong which conservationists want to be made into a marine park.
Marine park urgently needed, conservationists say
There are currently eight marine parks along the NSW coastline, and Daisy Barham from the Nature Conservation Council said the Hawkesbury Shelf was the only region that did not have one.
“The research has shown that a marine park deals with the most number of threats to the marine environment, so if the government is serious about dealing with the threats that our precious environment faces, they would absolutely bring in a marine park for the region,” Ms Barham said.
“We’re really encouraging the government to move ahead with the marine parks for the region, it’s well overdue.
“We’re the only place in the state that doesn’t have one, and it’s something that the community want, so what’s not to love?”
Ms Johnstone said it was too early to say what protection measures would be considered for that section, but stressed it would need lengthy consultation.
“That hasn’t been identified as yet, so there’s still quite a process to go through to identify what are the best spatial management mechanisms in the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion, and we need to talk to the community about that,” she said.
“That will be dealt with separately, and we really need to obviously talk to the community in detail about any options, but there’s nothing developed at this stage.”
Shooters, Fishers party vows to fight further protections
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Upper House MP Robert Brown said he would fight any plans for further protections in the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion.
He said there were already big areas of aquatic reserve there, particularly around Sydney Harbour.
“So any attempt to introduce marine parks or any more exclusion zones other than what there are now, I think would be very, very unpopular and certainly I’d do everything in my power to make sure it didn’t happen,” Mr Brown said.
Submissions can be made on the NSW strategy until December 8.