DAVID WROE June 14, 2012
Commercial fishermen are set to receive compensation of about $100 million to help them adjust to the establishment of the world's largest network of marine reserves around Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this morning.
But the industry has swiftly poured scorn on the figure. Brian Jeffriess of the Commonwealth Fisheries Association told the National Times the government ''were kidding themselves'' if they though that was enough.
Ms Gillard told ABC radio that the 44 marine reserves, covering more than 3 million square kilometres of Australian waters, would affect only about 1 per cent of commercial fishing.
She added: ''There will be assistance available in the vicinity of $100 million.''
Environment Minister Tony Burke announced the massive expansion of marine protection - the world's most comprehensive - in Sydney this morning, ahead of next week's Rio+20 summit on global sustainability.
The plan offers differing levels of protection, ranging from full-blown national parks that prohibit mining and most types of fishing, to multi-use zones, which will still allow oil and gas exploration as well as some types of commercial fishing.
Conservationists welcomed the announcement, though many expressed concern that more of the areas should have been marked as national parks.
But the plan puts the Gillard government on a collision course with the fishing industry.
Mr Jeffriess said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - a relatively small area compared with today's announcement - alone had cost $250 million and rising in adjustment assistance.
While praising Mr Burke's lengthy and close consultation with the industry, he criticised the fact the government had revealed the plan without announcing compensation at the same time.
''If you're sitting there as a small business in a regional area dependent on the fishing industry, what are you supposed to do? For those who don't know whether they can stay in business at all, their staff will desert in droves. We're bitterly disappointed.''
Imogen Zethoven, a Coral Sea campaigner from the Pew Environment Group, said the announcement was a ''historic moment'' in protecting the unique tropic waters beyond the Great Barrier Reef, which are home to sharks, tunas, and marlin, as well as healthy coral reefs, atolls, cays and islands.
Wilderness Society marine campaign manager Felicity Wishart said the announcement was a ''welcome first step'' but included ''some major omissions that undermine the effectiveness of the overall system''.
Mr Burke said the plan would take the success of Australia's national parks on land and apply them to the sea.
''Our oceans have been such a missing piece of that jigsaw and this now allows us to fill that in,'' he said.
''For generations, Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain unique marine life which needs protection too.''