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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts

Areas for Further Assessment in the East Marine region

Interview with Annie Gaffney, ABC Sunshine & Cooloola Coast Morning Show
E&OE Transcript
25 March 2010

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GAFFNEY: A few minutes ago I was speaking with Winston Harris from the seafood industry and his concerns over new marine parks that could be declared in prime fishing grounds that include the Sunshine and Cooloola Coast, at least on the map at this stage anyway.

Let's hear from the Federal Environment Minister now on this issue. Peter Garrett, good morning to you.

GARRETT: Morning Annie.

GAFFNEY: The area that's under consideration for further marine park declaration runs from Torres Strait through to Northern New South Wales. It's a big area.

Can you give us the specifics of where that marine park could lie or marine parks? Local fisherman say they only know it could like somewhere between three and 200 nautical miles off the coast from here.

GARRETT: Well there's two areas that we've identified for further assessment Annie, in my announcement yesterday. One was the Coral Sea Conservation Zone which lies on the eastern side of the Great Barrier Reef.

The other was the Fraser area for further assessment and that's adjacent to the Great Sandy Marine Park and runs from Rainbow Beach up to a little bit north of Hervey Bay. It's an area of around 13,000 square kilometres.

But the critical point about yesterday's announcement is that they are literally areas which we are going to further assess to determine what level of protection and zoning will apply in Commonwealth waters. And they do not, of themselves - neither the borders nor the announcement - indicate that there will be specific areas that are protected and specific areas of mixed use until we've been through the process of consultation.

GAFFNEY: The fishing industry are obviously particularly concerned here locally about that Double Island to Fraser Island area which could be included. That's a million dollar industry for them alone in this area where they catch a number of species including prawns, fish, scallops and spanner crabs. How concerned should they be that this area could be off limits to the industry in the future?

GARRETT: Well I've seen the Seafood Industry Association's release by Winston Harris who you spoke to Annie, and I can see that he's recognising that we're going to have really good and thorough ongoing consultation with that industry.

I've certainly said that the challenge for us is to pursue what both sides of politics have agreed is the right thing for us to do in terms of protecting the marine environment and that's to have a comprehensive system of marine protected areas right around Australia in place by 2012.

But in doing that, recognising that there are the opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for fishing industries, commercial and rec fishing and other mixed uses to be provided with that opportunity as we go through this process. And that's why it's a pretty long process. That's why there's pretty extensive consultation. So, we're aware of those issues. We certainly listen very closely to their concerns.

And I think that we can be pretty clear that what we went through the zoning proposals on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park we saw the opportunities for us to, in the longer term, have a healthy ocean ecosystem which enables our fishing industries to continue and for people to make a living from fishing whilst at the same time making sure that the underlying health of the environment's protected along the way.

GAFFNEY: So are you saying there won't be an outright blanket ban on these fishing zones?

GARRETT: Well look I'm not going to be saying anything about outright bans or otherwise in my interview with you because that wouldn't be appropriate for me to. What's appropriate for us to do now is to have the process of consultation that I outlined yesterday in our release and which I've made pretty clear when I've been speaking on radio in other parts of Queensland and when we're speaking to the media.

The fact is that these areas for further assessment are not areas that have got any legislative power or control on them at all at this point in time. They're only areas that we want to further look at in order to determine the best places to have marine protected areas and to look at the kind of zoning which we think marries the balance.

It's always the challenge in this which is protecting the environment and ensuring the sustainability of other activities.

GAFFNEY: Are you likely to make your decision over this issue before the next Federal election?

GARRETT: No, not at all. We'll go through a period of targeted consultations over the next two months. Specifically with the fishing sector and other conservation organisations, stakeholder groups, indigenous groups and others. There'll then be an extensive period of preparing draft plans, of seeing what additional information needs to be sought, whether it's scientific information or information about catch levels from the fishing industry and the like.

There'll then be draft plans that will come forward, probably early next year, and then after those draft plans are in place there's then another three month period or so, some 90 days, of statutory consultation again to take feedback from the community, from interested users, from the industry and from others.

And it won't be until that process is concluded that finally we'll be in a position to say this is what we think the best system of marine protected areas, mixed used areas and others is, around the coast.

GAFFNEY: What about compensation Minister? Where to with that if some of these areas are declared off limits to the local trawler operators and fishermen here on the coast?

GARRETT: Well again that'll be an issue which will have to be considered by government in the context of a policy around displaced effort but until such time as we've actually got that very clear process that's concluded, a process that's heard clearly from industry and from others and until such time as we're in a position to identify what protected areas in any particular area that's been identified in this process is, we won't move to consider that matter.

GAFFNEY: Winston Harris raised the issue of being concerned that if there were bans placed on traditional fishing zones for these local operators here in Queensland that we could see more seafood imported into Queensland. How concerned should we be about that?

GARRETT: Look I think there are lots of issues and some of them pretty complex when it comes to looking at the best form of marine protected areas and what other potential issues are around. I think the key for us here is to recognise that there is a strong case that marine protected areas are needed to ensure that the underlying health of our ocean ecosystems is maintained.

That underlying health is responsible for providing the fertility of the ocean, if you like. And so for Australia, our challenge is to have what I think can be the world's best system of regulated marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters. But at the same time ensuring that the zoning that we have for the areas for further assessment enables sustainable fishing and other sustainable activities to continue ongoing.

Now it's going to be a lengthy process. It's a process where sometimes feelings, you know, run pretty high. But we will listen very carefully to what the industry, to what the community, to what indigenous people and others bring forward to us and we'll aim to get the very best result at the end of the day.

GAFFNEY: Could these new marine parks potentially affect the mums and dads and kids who like to cast a line in from the beach?

GARRETT: Well not from the beach unless they happen to be on an island that's three nautical miles or more out to shore. We're only talking about Commonwealth waters Annie, we're not talking about state waters.

GAFFNEY: So potentially Fraser Island then could be included in that?

GARRETT: Well look, Fraser Island...

GAFFNEY: The big fishing area.

GARRETT: Yeah, yeah, no, no, that's right. But look, in terms of recreational fishing there's no specific issue that relates to the delivery of marine protected areas which need in any way raise people's concerns about the general business of recreational fishing or otherwise.

Yes there may be areas ultimately which are marine protected areas which have some zonings on them which are areas for protection.

But we will be mindful of the fact that a lot of people like to throw the line in and that most of those fishing activities are already regulated by the state with things like catch limits which change over time, specific requirements of what people can and can't take.

I mean there's a context there for rec fishing which is - that's already something which is subject to the regulations from the relevant fishing authorities and others and my expectation is that that would continue.

GAFFNEY: Minister thanks for having a chat this morning.

GARRETT: Thanks Annie.

GAFFNEY: That's the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett speaking to me there about concerns from the local seafood industry over the potential for new marine parks to be declared in prime fishing zones here on the Sunshine and Cooloola Coast.

[ENDS]

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