Keep Australia Fishing Campaign: When the Truth Stops Mattering

This week the Keep Australia Fishing anti-marine parks misinformation campaign run by some of Australia’s previously considered respectable recreational fishing lobby leaders and commentators hit new lows.

In a puff piece published in The Australian Newspaper last week the gap between reality and rhetoric was starkly on display.  The article was published in the lead up to a rally in Victoria, and claimed a thousand fishers would attend as ‘a growing number of the nation’s estimated five million anglers are furious…’.  In reality the Squid can report that about 80 people attended.  And that was at a fishing club with a membership of over 1000,

and with Rex Hunt and other fishing celebrities in attendance, and with free giveaways of fishing tackle.

Just down the road in Geelong, hundreds of fishers did in fact rally that day.  Not about marine parks, but over concerns about the impacts of commercial gillnets on local fish stocks.  An issue real grassroots fishers actually care about.

Also in The Australian was a photo of a Busselton fisherman attacking the new marine parks, claiming that “I haven’t seen any science anywhere from the federal government as to why Geographe Bay needs to be a marine park”.  As an interested local it is hard to imagine how he has avoided the  numerous well publicized forums in Busselton over many years for both state and commonwealth parks where marine park science has been presented and debated in the specific context of Geographe Bay. But even if he did, it is easily accessible online from the feds.  It would be good if journalists checked this sort of thing.

There has also been a long term campaign against commercial gillnetting in Geographe Bay by local fishers. Thanks to environment groups, the new marine park this fisherman is protesting against protects most of Geographe Bay from gillnets.  Sadly, if environment groups hadn’t picked this issue up it would have been a missed opportunity, because the WA recreational fishing lobby was so busy running their ‘lock outs’ campaign as part of Keep Australia Fishing that they completely failed to organize on gillnets in the bay.  Surely this gillnet ban would be one reason for a local recreational fisherman to support the park?

The regular claims of no consultation from Keep Australia Fishing are also hard to fathom because they contrast so heavily with the considerable evidence freely available on the public record.

This week’s antics are however just more of the same.  As the ABC revealed last August, many in the recfishing lobby have long held concerns that the Keep Australia Fishing campaign is blowing their credibility as a lobby group.  Leaked internal fishing lobby letters in the ABC piece raised concerns that the claims of lock outs around Australia are “misleading, inaccurate, alarmist, mischievous, or aimed at stirring up people”

It is unsurprising then that the WA State Liberal Government and the Federal Labor Government have chosen to sideline the more extreme anti-marine park views of the recreational fishing lobby, and go ahead with following the scientific advice of more credible bodies such as the Australia Marine Science Association who hold positions supporting marine sanctuaries in Australia’s waters.

However, the Federal Opposition appears to still have a way to go to see the light.  Federal Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Shadow Fisheries Spokesperson Richard Colbeck attended the Keep Australia Fishing Rally last weekend.

It is a concerning sign for the Federal Liberals.  The Liberals has a world leading record on marine parks, highlights being upgrading protection of the Great Barrier Reef in 2004, and later establishing the process that has led to the national marine reserve network they now appear to be toying with opposing. Aussie legend and Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan has prepared an excellent summary of the history of Australia’s marine parks here.

The absurdity of the Coalition opposing marine parks was best highlighted today when they backed a motion to disallow the new marine park network in Parliament.  Five separate disallowance motions were put in, one for each region in Australia.  That means it included the South East region that was put in place by the previous Howard Government.  In effect they are seeking to disallow their own marine park plans that have been in place since 2007.

One can only conclude that the Coalition has not yet engaged their collective brains on this issue and thus the extremists in the party (let’s face it every party has them) have been running the agenda.  Let’s hope they get their act together soon given polling shows they are likely to be the Government responsible for managing the new national marine reserve network by the end of September.

Keep Australia Fishing is a ridiculous campaign based on hot air and anger from a small minority of politically motivated fishers who have repeatedly shown that they do not have the backing of Australia’s mainstream recreational fishers.  Indeed, when polling consistently shows that 70-80 percent of Australians support marine sanctuaries, how could they?  With support that high, the supporters of marine parks also clearly include the majority of fishers and the majority of coalition voters.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of recreational fishers are simply too smart to buy the rhetoric, and are capable of looking at a map for themselves and deciding if the impacts are an acceptable balance, or in fact ‘vast lockouts’.

The national marine reserve network is a good thing, supported by the majority of Australians.  It has very little impact on recreational fishing. Undoing it would be expensive, destructive, unpopular, and globally embarrassing after the praise Australia has received for establishing it in the first place.

The final stages of establishing the new national network are a moment for celebration, not for dirty politics.

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