CEO Message: Potential over-reach on marine park sanctuary zones tipped to increase imports of unsustainable, third world seafood

WAFIC continues to highlight the potential impacts upon WA food security if excessive sanctuary zones are created in the proposed South Coast Marine Park, or the extension of the Marmion Marine Park.  The areas of protection will be decided over the coming months in a process managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

The flow-on effects of large closure areas will not only impact upon the socio-economic fabric of coastal communities, but also through fish & chip shops right across the state, which already struggle to source sufficient local supplies.  As an example, already 82 per cent of the sharks landed south of Perth are unloaded in the port of Esperance, so any areas closed to future fishing will have a direct ripple effect for restaurants and fish & chip shops, not just along the south coast, but also across the State.

The sad part is that currently over 70 per cent of seafood consumed in this State is imported, and every local tonne of fish further locked away will directly lead to yet another tonne being sourced from unsustainable overseas sources.  The community needs to realise that the cumulative effect of marine parks and coastal industrial developments is really starting to bite and the administrations currently do not have the tools to manage cumulative effects.

Naturally the commercial fishing industry wants healthy marine habitats and sustainable fish populations – because without them we would have no future – but under the current fisheries management systems the south coast is already in absolutely pristine form.  That’s a huge credit for DPIRD and our fishers which surely needs to be celebrated.

Already the WA commercial fishing sector is managed to world’s best standards. Ours is a fully renewable industry and over 90 per cent of the State’s fisheries have secured the maximum international MSC standards of sustainability – these are the highest benchmarks for any jurisdiction on the face of the planet and it’s something we are immensely proud of.

The planned south coast marine park will cover more than 6000 square kilometres, which for example’s sake is greater than a five kilometre wide area of coastal waters stretching from Perth all the way to Exmouth.  The scale is simply immense, and even relatively small sanctuary zones in this gigantic south coast park will have a dramatic impact on already overstretched fresh fish supply to the Western Australian community.

Not only this, but the livelihoods of the commercial fishers themselves can potentially be impacted in some circumstances – and similarly the health of small coastal towns. Local fishers are also often the backbone of these communities. In addition to fishing, they are also volunteer ambulance drivers, sporting coaches, emergency sea rescue heroes and service club members, so the State simply can’t afford to lose them from the social fabric.

At WAFIC we’re happy to work hand-in-hand with government to come up with sensible habitat protection arrangements for coastal waters. We think there is abundant potential for outcomes which deliver optimal environmental outcomes while still maintaining a healthy seafood industry and adequate long term supplies to a grateful community.

The people of WA cannot afford to see another major over-reach like what happened in the Kimberley marine parks, which will further contribute to our overall inability to currently supply any more than 30 per cent of the local market.  I’m continually advised by the hospitality sector and fish outlets that they are already struggling to procure sufficient local WA fish to meet demand.  Yet our industry is limited in the places where it is allowed to fish and the constraints are getting higher, so the situation is heading in the wrong direction.

All we’re doing is asking the government to make sensible, balanced decisions to ensure there is a healthy future for the commercial fishing industry so the State’s food security is being actively protected by (currently unmitigated) cumulative encroachment from coastal industrial developments and marine park sanctuary zones.

We’re certainly not trying to stand in the way of progress – quite the contrary in fact – we simply need an early seat at the table so that we can assist in securing win-win outcomes for the benefit of the State as a whole.