Today the Minister for Fisheries announced that he would consider all measures to save WA’s fish stocks from becoming overfished, and then went on to talk about considering another new license fee for fishing. Is charging shore based anglers $30 a year really going to make a difference to fish stocks?
Five years ago the amount of sanctuary zone protection on the Great Barrier Reef was increased to 33%, a recent paper co-presented by a who’s who of Australian marine scientists found extraordinary environmental benefits due to this increased protection, including rapid increases in fish stocks, and net benefits to fishing and the economy.
A recent study by the respected Allen’s consulting group on proposed marine sanctuaries for southwest WA also found that there would be long term benefits to fishing and an overall benefit to the WA economy from a network of marine sanctuaries. Author Dr Martin Van Bueren has a long history of public policy environmental economics and a PhD in fisheries economics.
Evidence from the Ningaloo Reef marine park in WA where marine sanctuary protection was recently increased is also suggesting strong environmental, fishing and economic benefits.
So what about a fishing license? Bag limits have failed to protect fish in WA, for example you can’t go any lower than a bag limit of one Dhufish. Cutting commercial effort has failed to turn the situation around, the metro area is now a recreational fishing only zone and the declines of fish stocks continue. Broad seasonal closures have now started for some species but these are unpopular amongst fishers and evidence of their effectiveness in reversing declines in fish stocks, as opposed to stopping futher over-exploitation during vulnerable periods, is not as strong as for marine sanctuaries. It is hard to see how simply adding a license to this picture will reverse the declines.
Rather, the evidence suggests that a mix of long term closures, marine sanctuaries, highly localised seasonal closures such as the snapper breeding aggregations in Cockburn Sound, and maintenance of traditional bag limit controls outside of sanctuaries is the best way forward. A license may compliment these by providing funds for research and enforcement but it is hard to see it as a solution in itself.
Some will argue against this by saying that in a healthy and well managed fishery there are no fisheries benefits to marine sanctuaries, and they are only for biodiversity protection. This is a genuinely disputed point amongst fisheries scientists. However, it is a moot point in WA where serious declines in a number of fish species is driving the concern from fisheries managers and marine scientists that is leading to measures like the fishing licenses.
A license might have a role to play in WA, but the answer to reversing declines in fish stocks and marine biodiversity starts with a network of marine sanctuaries.