Fisheries Report 169 – Are Fishos getting sold a dud by Fisheries Department on fishing and sanctuaries / marine parks?

It is being claimed in the media by some that a recently released report from the Fisheries Department “The efficacy of sanctuary areas for the management of fish stocks and biodiversity in WA waters”, counters the increasingly strong arguments for marine sanctuaries, or sanctuary zones in marine parks, as a necessary tool in biodiversity protection and a valuable tool in fisheries management.

As discussed below, these claims are not true and don’t do justice to the serious concerns amongst many fishos about the future of fish stocks, fishing and the marine environment.

The report authors themselves, in the direct quote below, acknowledge that there is evidence of benefits for biodiversity from a network of marine sanctuaries, but debate around the benefits for fisheries management.

What is not acknowledged in the report; however, is that the debate on fisheries management is increasingly swinging towards an acceptance of the benefits of marine sanctuaries in providing valuable research areas, insurance against mistakes and often spill over benefits to neighboring fisheries.

Other recent reports based on a wide search of the latest literature back this view that the benefits side of the ledger is increasingly in favour of marine sanctuaries – meaning sanctuaries are highly likely to play an important role in recovering the quality of recreational fishing in WA (links to three examples here here here ).

The case for fisheries benefits from marine sanctuaries is especially strong in areas where fish stocks are overexploited – which is the case in WA and this is acknowledged by the Fisheries Department in separate documents .

Below is the above mentioned quotes from the Fisheries Department report. The benefits listed in these other reports are acknowledged, but the report then tries to argue that they are not applicable to WA.

On page 2, the report states: “We conclude that there is a rational basis to support the establishment of additional marine sanctuary areas in WA waters where they have clear, measurable objectives and at a scale that relates to achievable benefits for tourism, biodiversity monitoring, research and other ‘no-take’ outcomes. Given the extensive fisheries management and marine habitat protection systems already operating in WA marine waters (which includes an extensive set of spatial closures and management arrangements), there is no scientific basis within the WA context to support their justification for the purposes of managing harvested fish stocks, where they are merely additional to current management controls.”

The efficacy of sanctuary areas for the management of fish stocks and biodiversity in WA waters , J. W. Penn and W. J. Fletcher

Further, the report claims that “In terms of benefits, whilst there is no doubt that sanctuaries often result in an increase in the local densities and sizes of some species (i.e. those that are not highly migratory), this does not automatically equate with improved fish production potential at the whole of stock level or even increased biodiversity. In WA there are few species with breeding stock levels that are reduced to a point where the increased egg production generated from a general sanctuary zone is likely to measurably improve their recruitment”.

To address the above points:

Firstly, the few species mentioned that have low enough stock levels to benefit from sanctuaries actually happen to include the most economically important fishery in Australia – MSC certified and recently hailed as the best managed fishery in the world; the western rock lobster fishery ; and the iconic recreationally targeted species like Dhufish, Baldchin Groper, Breaksea cod and Pink and Red Snapper.

In the case of rock lobster around 100 boats dropped out of the fishery in the past year, and larval recruitment is down to close to 1% of historical averages. A lack of broodstock (egg production) is one of the prime concerns because environmental factors alone have not yet been able to explain the decline.

In the case of the recreationally targeted species, the ‘vulnerable five’, rec fishos have already been taken off the water for 2 months of the year and – in the case of dhufish  – bag limits have already been reduced to one fish. There is serious concern about the ability of dhufish stocks to recover unless fishing effort is reduced by at least half.

In other words, some of WA’s most important fish stocks have reduced to a point where well designed marine sanctuaries would be likely to aid their recovery.

The other claim that has been jumped on by some commentators is that there is no evidence from WA that marine sanctuaries work. This is not quite true, there is evidence starting to emerge from Ningaloo Reef of benefits to both biodiversity and fishing and to the local economy. Ningaloo Reef is one of the few areas of the WA coast with a network of sanctuary protection. But with less than 1% of the coast protected (and most of this in Ningaloo Reef Marine Park) there are so few examples of marine sanctuaries that this evidence would be impossible to produce for much of the coast.

Simply put, if you demand local evidence then you need local sanctuaries – a nice circular argument for those who never want to see a sanctuary in WA.

However, the absence of this information is not an argument against sanctuaries, it simply suggests we should look elsewhere and make reasonable assumptions that the incredible benefits found in similar environments around Australia and in New Zealand would also be realised in WA.

The report also demonstrates outdated thinking in its claims that “ marine habitats, and therefore a large proportion of the biodiversity in WA waters, are highly protected from negative fishery impacts compared to nearly all other locations in the world ”. This is because WA has a limited area of trawl fishing. However, this thinking ignores the well documented proof that overexploitation of key fish stocks, particularly the large predators that are so often targeted by fishing pressure, has had fundamental negative impacts on biodiversity, ecological communities and even physical habitats.

There is little real understanding of thee effects in WA waters; principally because there are so few marine sanctuaries. However, evidence from elsewhere suggests that there are significant impacts. For example studies on the Great Barrier Reef show better control of coral eating Crown-of-thorn outbreaks in sanctuary zones , and evidence from NZ shows that the large snapper and crayfish in sanctuary zones reduce the occurrence of kelp destroying urchin outbreaks which create large low productivity ‘urchin patches’ on areas of former kelp reef. This is simply because the larger predators are capable of eating the larger urchins, when these larger animals are removed, the urchins take over and eat away the kelp forest.

People and particulaly fishos should be very careful in considering arguments that this report makes a case against sanctuaries. The question each person should ask in considering this debate is: how good is the fishing, diving or marine life compared to 10 years ago, 15? 20? I know personally I got into marine conservation when I saw the fishing and diving in WA go downhill during the 90’s, particularly in my old favourite holiday destination of Geographe Bay.

WA has a unique marine environment and lifestyle that is appreciated by conservationists, diver and fishers alike. Our unique marine environment and our great fishing and marine lifestyle deserves better than what we have given it in the past, and a network of marine sanctuaries will go a long way to giving us better.

Sanctuaries are not a silver bullet, but they must be at the heart of the management regime that is required to ensure a future for our fishing and our marine life.


Save Our Marine Life Rally: Sanctuaries before Oil: Sat 8th May Margaret River

Surfrider Foundation and Conservation Council of WA with Save Our Marine Life are hosting a rally supporting marine sanctuaries and opposing new oil development in areas under consideration for future marine parks – just 83km from Margaret River.
Rally is 12pm, Sat 8th May, Ruether Park, Margaret River. Expert speakers and local music artists.

Posted by Wordmobi

More info on Facebook here.

Send a message to the Resources Minister here here.

More on why now is the time to act on Margaret River Oil here here.

The End of the Line in Australian Cinema’s – May 6th!

Imagine an ocean without fish. Imagine your meals without seafood. Imagine the global consequences. This is the future If we do not stop, think and act.

And now The End of the Line is coming to a cinema near you!

The End of the Line has had a long and exciting year since Australia’s first sneak preview in Margaret River – organized by the Conservation Council of WA and the Surfrider Foundation.

Since then the Conservation Council and Save Our Marine Life have organized a roadshow around southwest Western Australia , screening the film to over 1400 people. The momentum generated by the tour and fantastic attendance took these community organized advanced screenings national, with sneak previews organized by environment groups in all major cities attracting big crowds.

In February, the Director of the End of the Line, Rupert Murray, visited Australia and the Happy Squid wrote about the relevance of this film to Australia .

Later, the film screened in Australia’s Parliament House supported by a Labor MP, a Liberal MP and a Greens Senator.

And now, almost a year later, the film is making its cinema Premiere in Sydney on the 6th May! It will also screen in most major cities and some regional towns including Broome as part of a wide release in Australian cinemas. Download the flyer here to find a screening near you. The End of the Line Australian Cinema Release

More on The End of the Line:

The End of the Line is the world’s first major feature documentary about the devastating impact over fishing has had, and is having, on our oceans. Based on the book by former Telegraph journalist Charles Clover, and filmed over two years, The End of the Line provides a dramatic exposé of those in power who are taking advantage of the seas with catastrophic consequences on the world’s fish supplies.

The End of the Line is a wake-up call to the world. It is however a wake-up call which demonstrates the simple changes people can make to reverse the current predicament facing everyone.

You can be part of the solution…

Find out more about the film and view the trailer at

You can take action to protect Australia’s marine life in large marine sanctuaries at

Whale Poo Plays Big Role in Healthy Oceans and Climate Change

Before commercial whaling began whales ate about 190 million tonnes of krill per year, converting this into about 7600 tonnes of iron-rich faeces which promote the growth of carbon absorbing algae, according to Steve Nicol, of the Australian Antarctic Division in The Age today…

Full article at The Age

Louisiana Oil Spill: Is Australia becoming too comfortable with our own resources boom?

The resource industry provides much of Australia’s wealth. A simple statement that is almost an obligatory disclaimer before saying anything good or bad about Australia’s resources sector, the mining, oil and gas industries.
But most Australian’s are also passionate about out natural environment. It is a conflict that is increasingly resulting in a cringe against being ‘anti-development’. This has been enhanced by decades of very good PR from the mining and oil sectors talking up their green credentials, and down their environmental impacts.
For example, most people don’t know that mining companies don’t fill in the massive pits they make in the ground when they close a mine. They say it is too expensive. Most people who are not in the industry are shocked when they hear this. There are literally thousands of open pits left across the Australian landscape.
Just today another potential oil disaster has struck in the US, off the coast of Louisiana.
It comes on the back of a narrowly avoided disaster from an oil spill from a coal carrying ship that grounded on the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this year the Montara oil rig failed and spilled oil into the ocean for ten weeks off north west Australia. We forget other oil spills, in WA the Kirki oil tanker in 1991 sank and spilled 17,400 tons of oil into the ocean, and of course the Sanko Harvest fertilizer carrier on the pristine Recherche Archipelago that same year. All Australia’s massive oil spills are summarized at the AMSA website.
And it is not just accidents. The recently commenced Gorgon gas project puts at risk one of Western Australia’s most important wildlife refuges on the Barrow Island Nature Reserve, it will also involve Australia’s largest dredging project though a pristine coral reef. Environmental Agencies recommended strongly against the approval of this project.
Closer to Perth, the Government has repeatedly overruled scientific advice from WA’s environmental watchdog about unacceptable environmental impacts from mining in the banded ironstone formation ranges – despite high level work by Government agencies undertaken to ensure development is balanced with conservation. Any level of potential resource remains a permanent roadblock to conservation.
And of course we keep growing Australia’s largest export earner, the coal export industry, whilst our Prime Minister talks of climate change being the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’.
The debate is being bourne out now again in the Southwest, where the Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is planning to release a new oil exploration lease in an area under consideration for future marine sanctuaries.
Meanwhile, despite our reputation for our excellent National Parks, environmental protection is far behind resources development. Whilst most of our land and much of our ocean is covered in mining and oil tenements, less that 7% of WA’s land mass, and less than 1% of our oceans are protected in secure conservation reserves. This is far below the minimum levels scientists recommend to ensure sustainability of ecosystems and protect many species from extinction.
We don’t need to be anti-development, don’t even need to be greenies, but if more people take the time to find out the information and become ‘pro-balance’ then we will be much better off. We don’t have to develop every possible resource in this country to still be wealthy. In fact, we will be much the poorer if we do.
Being pro-development needn’t mean giving the mining and oil industries access to everything they want. It doesn’t mean ignoring the very real risks that resources development brings into our unique Australian natural environments.

Save Our Marine Life Launches Margaret River Oil Web Campaign

As evidence that a new oil industry is set to move into WA’s unprotected southwest waters is increasing, Save Our Marine Life has launched a new web campaign where people can email the Resources Minister Martin Fergson directly to protest the imminent release of a massive oil exploration lease in an area under consideration for future marine sanctuaries.
Recently, Save Our Marine Life uncovered that an oil industry expansion proposed for release on May 16th at the Petroleum Industry (APPEA) conference will impact areas identified by the Environment Department as of interest for marine sanctuaries in the SW, including a large area of proposed new leases just 83km offshore from Margaret River, an iconic southwest tourism destination known for its clean beaches and clean, green, coastal lifestyle.
To add weight to this evidence the WA Premier has recently promoted $170 billion in new oil developments for WA whilst visiting Texas, USA, and Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has also released 7300km2 of detailed government-funded seafloor maps to the oil industry designed to encourage more oil exploration in our SW waters.
Save Our Marine Life is now petitioning the Government not to go ahead with the new oil leases until marine sanctuaries are in place. WA’s unique marine life remains unprotected, and under threat.


Other Happy Squid blog entries on this topic:
Why Now is the Time to Act on Margaret River Oil Exploration Proposals
Offshore Oil Expansion to Impact on Future Marine Parks Near Margaret River

The Science is In: WA must Act on Marine Sanctuaries


Today the Department of Environment released a landmark report strongly supporting the benefits of a network of marine sanctuaries for Western Australia.

Billed at the time of commissioning as the definitive scientific statement on marine sanctuaries in WA; this report was designed to end years of debate into the need for marine sanctuaries and their place in protecting WA’s marine life.

The Report on the Scientific Basis for and the Role of Marine Sanctuaries in Marine Planning, was completed by independent scientists appointed by the former Minister for the Environment, and recommended by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution with advice from the then Fisheries Minister and Resources Minister.

The report comes on the back of recent studies from the Great Barrier Reef that showed major environmental benefits from the increases in protection there – including a two fold increase in fish populations.

It also supports a recent study by the Allen Consulting Group that shows long term economic benefits from a network of marine sanctuaries in WA’s southwest waters.

The new report makes strong recommendations for the implementation of a network of large marine sanctuaries as an essential tool in our efforts to protect marine life

“With this new evidence, the State Government no longer has any excuse not to create large new marine sanctuaries in WA’s southwest and at Camden Sound,” said Conservation Council marine spokesperson Tim Nicol.

“Currently less than 1% of WA’s marine environment is protected; this report paves the way for immediate action towards a network of large marine sanctuaries for WA.”

“The report highlights the very strong evidence of benefits from marine sanctuaries for marine life, and the likely benefits to our ailing fisheries.”

“A network of large marine sanctuaries will allow our marine life to survive and thrive again. We may then once again see the abundance of large fish that our grandparents took for granted.”

The report is available at

The Conservation Council is campaigning for large marine sanctuaries in the Commonwealth waters off WA’s southwest as part of the Save Our Marine Life alliance (