Really saddens me to see recent stories regarding new marine parks and sanctuaries lead to ill informed, populist, knee jerk responses from fellow fishermen.
Firstly: conservationists, or ‘greenies’, the word so many fishermen spit out without any clue as to the meaning. What do greenies want? In this case, they want better living conditions for fish species so that those species may prosper and their environment improve. So, what? are all these angry fishermen against that? I don’t think so… when are you all going to realise, YOU ARE ON THE SAME SIDE. That’s right – greenies fought against the dredging, they fought against inappropriate bayside devlopment, they helped with the formation of stronger pollution laws, they organise working bees to clean up the creeks and rivers that flow into our bay, they saved Point Nepean from being another Kennett driven tourist nightmare… Greenies are great!
Next: Scientists. Scientists love an argument. You will not win an argument against a scientist unless you have facts. Science is the gathering of evidence in pursuit of fact. Facts win arguments. Some facts are harder to prove than others, but in the end, all a good scientist cares about is removing doubt. Scientists have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that marine parks and exclusion zones improve the fish habitat and contribute to greater fish numbers. It’s also proven that fish numbers immediately outside marine parks also increase. It is fact that these areas are good for fish, and therefore fishing. They are doing us a favour! Sure, it hurts to have an area cut off from access, but in the end, the aim of a marine park is perfectly aligned with the aim of most fishermen – more fish!
And now: Fisheries. ‘Why aren’t the fisheries down here catching the bad guys?’, and ‘What do I pay my licence fees for?’. Well folks, if you think your piffling licence fees go even half way to paying the wages of the fisheries inspectors, then you’ve been sniffing too much tuna oil! Sure, there are plenty of people who break the rules, but to blame fisheries staff for this is kinda missing the point. It’s the fault of the people breaking the rules! It’s bloody hard to catch them and even harder to enforce. They do their job, but they are massively under-resourced. I just wonder how much people would whine if the licence fees were raised to cover the true cost of enforcement. Go on, put your money where your mouth is – I think not!
So here we are. There are proposals about extending marine parks, there are ideas for better conservation of fish habitats and stocks, and there are acknowledged problems with compliance, but all people seem capable of doing is acting holier than thou and slinging mud. As a fisherman for almost 40 years, it shames me to be associated with such foolish shallowness. I go out on the bay in my canoe and I pick up rubbish floating around as I go, I gather tangled line when I come across it, I see discarded tackle, packaging and rubbish from other fishermen. As a group we are a long way from being blameless. What I’d suggest is that people step back for a moment and realise that they should be thankful for the greenies and the scientists. More than that, we as a group should be getting on board with them. Devising programs that help us both achieve our aims. What about the impact of catch and release zones? barbless hooks? banning larger power boats? banning lead weights? banning anchors? These are all ways in which fishermen could offer to contribute to conservation efforts and science, aligning our efforts instead of squabbling, and all without affecting access to our favourite spots.
The approach I’m seeing, of angry mobs refusing to budge didn’t work for the Mountain Cattlemen, didn’t work when the last round of Marine Parks were created, didn’t stop the Goulburn pipeline and won’t work this time either, so instead of wasting your time creating bad blood and reinforcing stereotypes, get behind your local green group, make contact with the science community and work together toward the common goal we all share.