South Coast divers say fishing trial is damaging marine park reputations

SCUBA diver Sue Newson says it’s high time a decision was made on the future of Sanctuary zones in Marine Parks.
SCUBA diver Sue Newson says it’s high time a decision was made on the future of Sanctuary zones in Marine Parks.

SCUBA dive operators are seeing the anecdotal damage caused by a decision to lift a ban on fishing in some marine sanctuaries.

In March 2013 the NSW government lifted the fishing ban on some sanctuary zones on ocean-facing beaches and headlands.

It was supposed to be a one-year trial.

Almost four months after the deadline expired environmental groups, divers and anglers remain in limbo with no decision from the government on when or if the trial will end.

Fisheries and marine parks officers were instructed not to enforce restrictions that ban recreational line fishing in sanctuary zones on the ocean beaches and headlands until new threat and risk assessments have been done.

It was a message that caused confusion for anglers trying to establish which sanctuary zones were open to fishing and which were not.

However some in the dive industry believe the decision was politically motivated and relates to pressure from the recreational fishing industry in northern NSW.

Jervis Bay was exempt from the loosening of restrictions, however parts of Jervis Bay Marine Park located outside the bay were included.

Dive industry representatives raised concerns that confusion over where the bans were lifted had a negative impact on marine parks as whole.

Owner of Crest Diving Jervis Bay Sue Newson said people believed they were allowed to fish in the marine park sanctuary zones now.

“Just this week I saw some guys fishing from the beach right in a sanctuary zone,” she said.

“Since this trial I am seeing fishermen using dive sites, so we seem to have that clash again like before the marine park was established.

“I’ve had lines cast over me and we see boats trawling through areas they shouldn’t be in, and we’re seeing this more since the rules were relaxed.”

Mrs Newson said it appeared the South Coast changes were an unfortunate by-product of political pressure on Port Stephens Marine Park.

“It’s complete politics. We’re not as popular in the south because the northern areas have warm water.

“So those areas have a lot more fishing pressures. I believe the decision was just all about politics.

“We have fallen under that decision, it’s like a blanket rule on all marine parks.

“The fact the government hasn’t done anything and it’s been so long now after the deadline is ridiculous,” she said.