Discussion: What can we learn from Australia's repealed fishing ban?

A recent news item about Australia's repeal of a ban on recreational fishing in government-protected marine reserves in Australia inspired an active debate in the WFN Digital offices this week, about the roles of government agencies, conservation groups, and angling associations. It all comes down to how decisions are made about who gets to fish where, and when, and how, in order to ensure that the resource is respected and renewed for future generations.

Here's what inspired the debate

In early 2012, Australia's Labor government proposed the creation of a Commonwealth marine reserve that would be closed to recreational anglers,  effectively banning the country's 5 million recreational anglers (approximately 20% of the total population!) from fishing more than 500,000 square miles of protected coastline and marine areas.It prompted an open letter from Keep Australia Fishing (KAF), where KAF director Jim Harnwell made a passionate appeal to then-Environment Minister Tony Burke to repeal the proposal, and step forward with evidence to support the decision. Australia's Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) also made an appeal, with ARFF Managing Director Allan Hansard stating that “ You don’t need to lock Aussie anglers out of marine national parks to have good marine conservation outcomes. All you need is good science and consultation.”The ban would have come into effect on July 1, 2014.

Then - things changed

Election season came and went and found the Labor party out, and the Coalition party - a long-established coalition of center-right parties - in power.  On December 14, Coalition Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced that they would be revisiting the ban with a scientific review, as well as a review and redraft of the management plans for the marine reserves. In the meantime, the ban is off entirely.The ARFF, who called the election "A referendum on your fishing rights", applaud the repeal, and state that the process to put the repeal in place was fundamentally flawed because it was not scientifically based, and did not take anglers into account. So does American Sportfishing Association President and CEO Mike Nussman, who issued a press release stating his support, and noting that "Australia's efforts to establish a massive network of marine parks did not sufficiently recognize the social, economic and conservation benefits of recreational fishing, causing great concern to everyone involved in recreational fishing."Environment and conservation groups, like Australia's Marine Conservation Society, responded with dismay, noting that the proposal earmarked $100 million for anglers impacted by the marine reserves and that the move put anglers "in limbo" while plans are reorganized.There's a common ground here: both conservation groups and angling associations want evidence-based management decisions about local waters. But they just can't seem to come together on how that should be done.

What do you think?

Does the one-size-fits-all approach work when it comes to managing different waters, different species and different angling communities?Or is a local approach the way to go, which would potentially dilute the abilities of local organizations to make wide-reaching changes?While you think about that, think about this: Australia has a "Fishing & Lifestyle Party" (yes, Fishing AND Lifestyle, not Fishing AS Lifestyle, which some might say is more accurate). Find out more about them here
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