Les Pearson reports
IN a sturdy show of support, hundreds of people packed into the Eagles Sports and Community Centre building for a public meeting regarding the proposed sanctuary zones in Marine Park 14 on Sunday.
While there was a strong representation from Port Wakefield, people travelled from Brinkworth, Port Clinton and Adelaide amongst other locations to hear more information and also have their say.
Teenager Zeke Bitter made a passsionate plea
to be able to fish from his canoe in sheltered waters amongst mangroves.
Most of the discussion was centred on the suggested 62km² no-take zone at the top of Upper Gulf St Vincent. Its boundary runs from Port Wakefield to just north of Port Clinton.
It is widely believed by commercial and recreational fishers this particular sanctuary zone, which prevents fishing of any kind north of its boundary, would drastically impact on both sectors and the town itself.
An alternative zone, about half the size of the government’s current proposal, was prepared by the Marine Park 14 Action Group and endorsed by a majority of people at the meeting, including Member for Goyder, Steven Griffiths.
With the support of the community, Mr Griffiths felt the alternative presented by the action group should be strongly considered by State Environment Minister, Paul Caica.
“I do think he listens to a sound argument and that’s where Marine Park 14 Action Group should be proud of itself, because what has been presented today is a sound argument,” Mr Griffiths said.
“It allows the key environmental responsibilities to be met but also gives the economy a chance to have a future.”
Mr Griffiths believed the attendance at the meeting was a positive sign to start with.
“The fact there are so many people here tells me you want to make a difference too,” he said.
“Democracy only works when people express themselves and that means telephone calls, emails, letters, attending rallies, making other people aware of your concerns.
“You have to be loud and continuous about it.
“It’s the wider region that needs to support this, to get this process right.
“Use every opportunity available to you in the next three months, because that’s how long it will probably take, to make people understand what your worries are and have your voice heard.”
LOCALS FIGHT FOR REVIEW
THE importance of the Marine Park Sanctuary Zones issue to the wider community was evidenced by the amount of questions that came from the large crowd at the town meeting on Sunday.
Three local speakers followed on from Marine Park 14 Action Group chair, Bart Butson’s introduction to the meeting.
Recreational fisherman, Jeff Sutton, touched on his close affinity with fishing in the district, a relationship he has nurtured for the past 50 years.
“You might see why I’m pretty outraged about the possibility of being locked out of my chosen fishing place,” he said.
Mr Sutton also quoted a letter from SA Angler magazine editor and publisher, Shane Mensforth, who was “appalled” by the size of Sanctuary Zone 1.
“The small but growing township of Port Wakefield will undoubtedly feel the effects of this no-take zone,” his letter said. “Locking up this area is simply not fair.”
Mr Sutton denied suggestions from RecFish SA (SARFAC) the local recreational fishers’ opposition to the no-take zone was provoked by the town’s commercial sector.
He was disappointed there were no representatives from SARFAC at the meeting.
Local teenager, Zeke Bitter, also spoke publicly on how the no-take zone would rule out many safe fishing spots for local youngsters.
“I don’t think it’s fair (if)…we can’t even fish in the sheltered water to the north of Port Wakefield,” he said.
“I need to stay close to the mangroves for safety. What will I do if you take this away from me?
“Please consider supporting us so my generation will have somewhere to fish.”
Salt of the Earth Café owner, Colin Doherty, discussed the economic impact feared by the community.
“We have made a fairly substantial financial commitment in Port Wakefield, because we really love this town and the opportunity arose for us at the right time,” he said.
“Quite a few boaties bring their wives and friends here, who spend time and money in our places, while their husbands are out fishing.
“This can’t happen if people can’t fish here. The boaties will bypass us.
Goyder MP, Steven Griffiths, said the economic impacts should have been considered before the zones were designed.
“We should have done the work to make sure we knew what the economic impact might be, before you put something out there.”
The public question time segment ran well over time, plenty of participants keen to air their concerns. Comments varied wildly from polluted water run off flowing into sanctuary zones, to navigation worries.
Regarding the polluted water run-off, State marine parks manger, Chris Thomas, said the sanctuary zones would allow for greater focus from Natural Resource Management departments to handle run off issues.
Mr Thomas said the sanctuary zones would also encourage greater EPA standards surrounding possible pollution from the Inkerman dump and Bolivar treatment plant.
Local professional fisherman, Michael Cicolella, questioned the government representatives on whether they were aware of the potential impact of the zones on Port Wakefield.
Another local professional fisherman, Robert Butson, asked why the MPLAG’s original suggested zones were altered.
Mr Thomas explained it was altered following a consensus reached at a stakeholder forum earlier in the year.
TOP OF GULF A ‘UNIQUE MARINE ENVIRONMENT’
FINDING the balance between conservation and minimising community impact is the main issue faced by the State government in applying its marine park sanctuary zones.
Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) Marine Parks project manager, David Pearce, and state marine park manager, Chris Thomas, explained this situation at the town meeting on Sunday.
Mr Pearce said the no-take zone attracting the most scrutiny, Sanctuary Zone 1, is proposed to protect a unique marine environment.
He said the top of the Upper Gulf St Vincent works like an ecological pump, with a huge tidal range and varying water temperature.
The mangrove creeks also provide a great area for young fish to feed on the phytoplankton produced in the area, while the seagrass beds are highly significant.
“Ecologically, in the state, this is an area of high importance,” Mr Pearce said. “From a statewide perspective, if you were designing areas for conservation, you would have to look here, this is a great area to put some sanctuary zones.”
Mr Pearce said it was always likely the zones were going to affect a certain amount of people.
Mr Thomas said establishing the proposed zones has been a tough process.
“We always knew marine parks would be difficult to bring in to effect,” he said. “The job we’ve been trying to do over the last four or five years is to design some sanctuary zones with the least possible impact and it’s been really difficult.
“We do have to find some areas for sanctuary zones, we want to put aside some areas for the future and preserve them in the health they are in today.
“So, it’s about a compromise and from what I’ve heard from the community it accepts the needs for sanctuary zones, but it’s about where and how big they are.
“We want to look after commercial fishers, provide for recreational fishers but we also want good conservation.
“This is a big change for communities and we accept that, which is why it has taken a number of years to get to this point.”
Mr Thomas also referred to the government’s stance on buying out displaced commercial fishing effort.
“Recreational fishers and commercial fishers have similar interests but ultimately, for the commercial fishers, it’s a livelihood and the government has committed to buy out any displaced commercial fishing effort,” he said.
“We’re not trying to squeeze more fishers into a smaller area.”
He reminded the public the zones are still in the proposal stage, with the public consultation phase, which will include the release of the social and economic impact statements, is coming soon.
“Once those documents are released, there will be a period of eight weeks, during which, you can write to government and express your views,” he said. “What we’re seeing today, which is really reassuring, is the community coming to a collective view.
“That is far more empowering and powerful for us in government and its ministers to consider proposals for the community that have brought community support, rather than individual comment.”
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