The Gillard government is set to dud fishermen and their communities, right around Australia by denying them compensation for fishing restrictions imposed in Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s looming vast network of Marine Protected Areas – to be announced after the election.
The government is developing MPA’s right around the Australian coastline out to the 200 nautical mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone. The MPA’s will include no-take zones that will impact on commercial and recreational fishing.
A secret 2009 report to the Government by consultants MAXimus Solutions recommends that it restrict compensation for affected fishermen to only those few holding statutory fishing rights. Most commercial fishermen operate through licences or permits – which the consultants have said should not be compensated. Recreational fishermen do not get a look in.
The report recommends against compensation or structural adjustment payments for fishing related on-shore businesses and communities, declaring that establishing such businesses - based on rights held by others - was “at their own risk.” It also recommends against compensation for tourism based charter operators, boat crews, and the shipping industry. The many businesses related to recreation fishing will also be ignored.
Big areas off Queensland, including a 13,000 square kilometre area off Fraser Island, and almost 1 million square kilometres of the Coral Sea, have been identified as prime candidates for MPA’s. A large area in the Gulf of Carpentaria is also being targeted.
Senator Boswell said that while the Coral Sea was separated from the shoreline by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and any closures there would have a limited impact on recreational fishers, most other areas for further assessment around Australia extended inshore to the limits of state waters and would potentially have major impacts. Any complementary zoning undertaken by states could make them worse.
Big areas offshore the NSW coast from the Clarence and Tweed rivers, off Port Stephens and Newcastle, off Bateman’s Bay and Bermagui, are affected. These are important recreational fishing areas.
In Northern Territory waters areas off Groote Eylandt and Limmen Bight in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in the Arafura Sea off Maningrida to the Coburg Peninsula, Darwin beyond the Tiwi Islands, and in Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, are candidates for MPA’s.
In WA areas off Wyndham, Derby, Broome, Port Hedland, Exmouth and Carnarvon could all be impacted. In southern WA there are areas off Kalbarri and a large area stretching almost unbroken from Perth to Albany. There are two large areas off Esperance and another near the border at Eucla.
In SA the area off Eucla stretches almost to Ceduna and another big area stretches from Ceduna to offshore Adelaide.
(Google Marine Bioregional Planning for access to all maps.)
Key decisions on the MPA’s were recently delayed until next year – beyond the looming federal election.
The secret consultant’s report lists key advantages of confining assistance as reducing the cost of the scheme and making administration easier.
The impending move to deny compensation and or structural adjustment is in stark contrast to the Howard Government’s provisions for compensation and adjustment for fishermen and affected onshore businesses after the 2004 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park extension.
That bill currently stands at over $220 million dollars, including $33 million for a licence buyout, $172 million in business restructuring grants, $3 million in fishery related business exit assistance grants, and sub-$1 million amounts for boat crew, land based employees, counselling, and business advice.
The report says there is no obligation on the Government to meet the just terms compensation regime set down in the Australian constitution because none of the rights held by fishermen, or any related onshore industries, are sufficient to trigger the requirement.
It says some off-shore mining interests may trigger just terms, and Native Title holders may require compensation because the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act specifically protect their rights.
The report’s recommendation for limited compensation for holders of statutory fishing rights is based on efficiency and equity grounds.
It says failure to provide assistance to such fishers impacted by MPA’s “could undermine investment confidence in the sector and interfere with the market for statutory fishing rights” while “fishers who hold permits and other ‘lesser’ interests should not be provided with additional assistance.”
The Senator called for immediate transparency in the marine planning process.
“We’ve now got this report out into the open, and it’s time for Minister Garrett to lay his cards on the table – before the election,” Senator Boswell said.
“Fishermen – commercial and recreational - and their communities also deserve to know just what it is that they are likely to suffer, and they can’t make judgments on that until the proposed constraints on fisheries are on the table.
“I do not believe that the Department does not now have in front of it sufficient information to provide fishermen and communities around Australia with a very clear idea of what to expect in terms of likely impacts, and the compensation regime.
“To date, consultation with the industry has been miserly, increasing suspicions about the government’s intentions.”
Senator Boswell said he would lobby his Coalition colleagues for fair treatment of fishers and others affected by any closures through an undertaking that the Coalition’s displaced effort policy would come after genuine consultation with fishers, after risk assessments were completed, and before draft closures were announced.
(Copies of the MAXimus Solutions report are available from Senator Boswell’s office.)