Should fish be eaten or just admired?
Australian Greenies say that fishing disturbs nature so fishing should be forbidden in vast areas of Australia's extensive territorial waters -- and the present Leftist Australian government is about to give Greenies just about all they want
Australia's newest Commonwealth marine reserve will be the world's largest "fattening paddock" for yellow fin tuna, but critics say only foreign fishing vessels will be reaping the benefits.
The one million square kilometre Coral Sea Marine Reserve will be the world's largest.
Chief among those arguing that commercial fishing should be allowed in the reserve is Canberra University's Dr Bob Kearney. He is a former director of fisheries research in NSW and a fierce critic of what he claims is a decline in scientific rigour when it comes to Australia's plans to give up a third of its exclusive economic zone to marine reserves.
Dr Kearney says the Western Pacific tuna fishery is the world's last great fishing resource and Australia should be increasing its catch, rather than locking it up. "It's just absolute nonsense, it's scientific claptrap to claim the yellow fin tuna is under any threat," he told ABC's Landline. "The real problem for Australia is it's grossly under-exploited.
"While we've got a shortage of food, we're importing 70 - 75 per cent of our seafood."
Contrary to claims by conservation groups such as Greenpeace, Dr Kearney says yellow fin tuna stocks are not threatened by fishing and could be fished much harder. "You couldn't wipe them out on known technology if they were $1 million each," he said.
But one of Australia's leading marine conservation scientists says that is not the point. "I'm not arguing we need to protect the Coral Sea because it's hugely overfished, its actually the opposite argument," says Dr Terry Hughes, who is director of Coral Reef Studies at the ARC centre for Excellence in Townsville.
Dr Hughes is also one of 300 international marine scientists who have called on the Australian Government to make the Coral Sea Reserve a 100 per cent no-take park.
"The issue isn't about food security or about fisheries management, it's about preserving one of the last few pristine ecosystems on the planet for the benefit of future generations," he said. "So we have a societal choice to make. Do we want to make everywhere in the ocean equally degraded or do we want to have a few places that are very special where we afford a higher level of protection?"
The Australian Government hopes to complete its rollout of marine reserves by the end of 2012 but could finalise the Coral Sea proposal in the coming weeks when Australia commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
The Government received more than 486,000 submissions during its 90-day public consultation period, with about 80 per cent generated by an international online campaign run by conservation groups.
The Protect Our Coral Sea Alliance comprises 14 organisations including the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the American Pew Foundation.
It has welcomed Australia's commitment to marine conservation but argues the Coral Sea proposal does not go far enough. The alliance also wants a ban on all fishing.
Under the Coral Sea proposal released late last year, some commercial fishing would be allowed in the reserve.
But a group of longline operators fishing the Coral Sea say the restricted zones are unworkable. They would rather be compensated than risk legal action for accidentally fishing in no-take areas.
"Our gear shifts around in the currents and we set that gear over about 50 miles (80 kilometres) in length in the water so we have to allow enough room for the gear not to drift over the line, if we drift over the line with any hooks into the park then we would be breaking the law," says Gary Heilmann, of De brett Seafoods.
He is the spokesman for the group representing 10 boats fishing out of Cairns and Mooloolaba. Mr Heilmann says it costs about $50,000 to send a boat from Mooloolaba to the Coral Sea to fish for tuna and other large species. He says the likely returns once the marine reserve is declared would not justify the cost.
Queensland Senator Ron Boswell says Australian boats are being forced out of the Coral Sea while Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands governments are licensing foreign operators to exploit the region's abundant tuna reserves.
"People are taking 700,000 tonnes of tuna just on the other side of the Coral Sea so Australia is providing a big fattening paddock for international fishermen to come in and take our catch," he said.
He has asked questions in the Senate about the likely cost of compensation which will also include about 40 prawn trawlers and the businesses supporting them.
"No-one's ever put a figure on it but I've done a rough count around Australia and there's 245 boats that are going to be displaced in one form or another and that is going to cost millions and millions of dollars," he said.
The Government says compensation and readjustment funding will be decided on a case-by-case basis and it expects to begin negotiations with the industry in the coming months.