The marine environment is in great danger, both in Australia and around the world. Section One below lists the five main threats. Of these threats, the most significant are fishing and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. In many parts of the world, and in some parts of Australia, marine ecosystems, or significant components of these ecosystems, have collapsed, and collapses like these are increasing in frequency and severity worldwide. Section Two below outlines this disturbing situation.
A huge body of scientific evidence is available to guide the design and management of marine parks (Terms of Reference part (a)). Section Three below lists a small sample of the peer-reviewed literature relevant to the design and management of marine protected areas. At a general level, international law also offers policy guidance on the design and management of marine protected areas. As a nation signatory to the international Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 Australia has endorsed a formal agreement to develop networks of marine protected areas, having sanctuary (or no-take zones) at their core. The details of this agreement are contained in the CBD Jakarta Mandate. Section Four of this submission takes an overview of the literature supporting the design and management of marine protected areas, and includes a discussion of key policy issues – relevant to scales from international to local. Section Five below includes an indication of the support given to marine protected areas by Australian scientists.
This submission does not discuss Terms of Reference (b), (c) or (d).
With regard to Terms of Reference (e), I am aware that there have been moves in NSW, particularly sponsored by the NSW branch of the Shooters Party, to limit or reduce the extent of no-take sanctuary zones. However the general trend world-wide has been to expand sanctuary zones not to limit them. Member states of the European Union have been expanding no-take zones under an EU Directive dating back about a decade. The USA, particularly under the leadership of George Bush, designated huge expansions of no-take marine protected areas in Alaska and in the USA’s Pacific Ocean jurisdictions. Pacific nations, including Fiji, Palau and the states of Micronesia (as examples) have hugely increased no-take zones in recent years. South Africa too has added large additions to its no-take zones.
Terms of Reference (f) considers the correct balance of general marine park areas to no-take sanctuary zones. Section Six of this submission reviews scientific literature on this subject, and concludes that, as far as the conservation of marine biodiversity is concerned, a huge increase on no-take zones is required, both in Australia and overseas. Most of the studies reviewed conclude that sanctuary zones occupying 20% to 50% of marine habitats are required to stem the current erosion of biodiversity values. As far as support for the fishing industry (both commercial and recreational) studies find that no-take zones can provide protection for critical spawning, nursery and feeding areas, thus providing fished populations with buffers against both fishing mortality and environmental variations. The result is more stable and reliable fisheries from year to year. However if these effects are considered alone (ie not considering other biodiversity values) current science suggests that fishery benefits can be gained from carefully placed sanctuary zones occupying around 10% to 20% of habitats.
Given the very serious threats facing marine ecosystems, I strongly support the model provided by Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where around 33% of the park is designated as no-take zones. I recommend that common ecosystem types which are not under significant threats be protected at a rate of at least 20% of the total area under that habitat type in the jurisdiction under discussion. However, where ecosystem types are rare or under threat, much greater protection is needed, up to 100% where very rare or highly endangered ecosystem types are concerned. It should be noted, as an example, that coral ecosystems are highly threatened by both fishing and climate change, where the latter threat will become increasingly severe over coming years. Yet only around 10% of coral habitats off the Queensland coast (including offshore and in the Gulf of Carpentaria) are protected in no-take zones. This situation is entirely inadequate.
I wish to conclude with two points about the management of fisheries in Australia. It is sometimes said that Australian fisheries management is so good that further protection of the marine environment from fishing impacts is unnecessary. This is certainly not the case. My first point concerns the way Australian governments, both State and Commonwealth, define “overfishing”. Fifty years ago it seemed logical to define overfishing solely on the basis of the health of the stock being fished – in other words taking no regard of the effects of fishing the stock on the marine environment broadly. Consequently the practice grew up where fisheries management agencies would define overfishing relative to the stock’s maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Unfortunately, this approach is still in use, even though during the last 50 years Australia has made important commitments to protect marine ecosystems (eg: through the Convention on Biological Diversity process, and at a general level through the Law of the Sea).
In my view a logical modern definition of overfishing is a level of fishing which puts at risk values endorsed either by the fishery management agency, by the nation in whose waters fishing takes place, or within widely accepted international agreements. This definition would take into account damage caused by fishing to the surrounding ecosystem, and a fishery would be defined as ‘overfished’ if significant damage had occurred, irrespective of the health of the fish stock in question. Technically, this definition is a good deal more sensitive than the old-fashioned definition, so it is likely that most major Australian fisheries would be defined as overfished using this definition – and this sadly reflects the reality. At present fishing levels are usually so high that ecosystem damage is evident, and so high that the long term futures of the fisheries themselves are at risk. Management against this new definition would have the added advantage of protecting important fish stocks by imposing lower fishing mortality, thus providing a buffer against unpredictable natural variations – which over the years have seen many important fish stocks collapse (eg the recent collapse of the Western Rock Lobster fishery in WA).
My second point relates to the way that two modern management techniques, the ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach, are applied by Australian fisheries management agencies. I spent four years (2005 to 2009) conducting in-depth reviews of several important Australian fisheries. This is a difficult and time-consuming task, given the amount of managerial and scientific literature which must be considered. The conclusion I reached, set out in detail in my book Overfishing Under Regulation, is that, at least in the fisheries I studied, these modern approaches are not competently applied, in spite of policy assurances to the contrary. In some cases important information was excluded from public reports, apparently to create the impression that the approaches were being successfully applied. This can only be described as dishonest, and reflects badly on the caliber of senior management within the agencies.
It seems likely that my findings apply broadly across fisheries management in Australia. The existence of organisational cultures within fisheries agencies which condone incompetence and encourage dishonest reporting could go a long way to explaining the poor track record of the agencies, even assessed by old-fashioned criteria. Here I refer to the ability of the agencies to manage fisheries for sustained harvest levels over periods of decades.
1. There is a huge body of scientific evidence supporting the creation of very large marine protected area networks, centred around core sanctuary zones. The creation of such networks has been a central part of international efforts to protect marine biodiversity for many years.
2. The value of sanctuary zones has been clearly documented in the scientific literature, and the Australian science community strongly supports the expansion of no-takes zones (see Sections 4 and 5 of this submission).
3. Internationally, there are many programs, begun over the last decade and continuing, to support a massive expansion of no-take zones and networks built around such zones. These programs rest on important international agreements, such as the Jakarta Mandate, which guides the implementation of the international Convention on Biological Diversity 1992.
4. No-take zones are essential to protect marine biodiversity values against fishing effects. Worldwide, fishing at the present time represents the greatest threat to marine biodiversity, although the threats posed as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide will become dominant in the near future.
5. Substantial no-take zones, strategically placed over key spawning, nursery and feeding areas, can boost and stabilize fisheries.
6. Blanket no-take area targets relating to large marine jurisdictions are of little value. Area targets should be set for all major habitat types. Common types under little threat should be protected with no-take areas covering at least 20% of the total area under that habitat type. Uncommon or highly threatened habitats should be protected at greater levels, with 100% protection for extremely rare or highly threatened habitat types. Examples of such rare and vulnerable habitats can be found on seamounts and steep deep canyons crossing the continental slope.
7. At present fisheries in Australia are assessed against a definition of overfishing which takes no account of the damage the fishery causes to impacted ecosystems. This unfortunately reflects the real priorities of Australian fisheries management agencies – priorities which are in urgent need of change.
8. All Australian fisheries agencies have made policy commitments to apply both the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. In-depth study of the application of these approaches however reveals reluctance to apply the approaches in practice, and dishonesty in reporting fishery outcomes. In many cases fishing represents the greatest danger to Australian marine ecosystems at a local and sometimes regional level.
I would be pleased to talk with the Committee in person if the Committee could fund a one-way budget airfare to Adelaide. I would pay the return flight. Alternatively I could address the committee through a telephone link. My number is 0422 926 515.
Contents: Section One:
Threats to marine environments…………………………………………………………… 4 Section Two:
The marine environment in crisis………………………………………………………….. 10 Section Three:
A sample of scientific papers to guide design and management of MPAs………… 23 Section Four:
An overview of the science relating to marine protected areas……………………… 49 Section Five:
Scientific support for networks of MPAs around core sanctuary zones…………… 85 Section Six:
The balance between sanctuary zones and other managed areas………………….. 93 Section Seven: