Claims a marine sanctuary zone in upper Gulf St Vincent will destroy a local fishing town have been dismissed as “rubbish” by the South Australian Government.
A group of Port Wakefield residents gathered to protest against the zone outside the office of the previous Environment Minister Paul Caica at Henley Beach on Sunday.
The State Government says the sanctuaries in 19 marine parks make up just 6 per cent of the state’s waters, but the protesters say the 61-square kilometre area at the top of Gulf St Vincent bears the brunt.
The State Opposition has vowed to reduce the size of the zone if it wins the election in March and the Primary Industries Department (PIRSA) has received more than 100 offers from fishers who want to surrender their licence or entitlement in return for compensation.
Commercial fisherman Bart Butson says the zone will hit the town hard because most people only visit for the fishing.
“The people that come to visit our community – they come here to go fishing. There’s not a lot else to do in Port Wakefield,” he said.
“They come fishing, they eat at our cafes and they stay at the caravan park and we rely on that sort of investment into our town.”
Recreational fisherman Jeff Sutton described their likely impact as “catastrophic.”
“It’s far bigger than any other marine park in South Australia and it just blocks off the whole of the top of the Gulf,” he said.
Government says residents unwilling to accept compromise
The South Australian Government says the boundaries of the marine parks were set after a major public consultation process in which more than 8000 submissions were received.
Environment Minister Ian Hunter says Recreational Fish SA supports the zone, accepting the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Mr Hunter says the zone prevents offshore catches but does not prevent fishing from beaches, boat ramps and jetties.
He dismissed claims the sanctuary would harm the local economy.
“It’s just rubbish because we haven’t stopped people from engaging in recreational fishing from the shoreline. In fact, we changed our policy position to allow that to happen,” he said.
“This area is a very important breeding ground for many important fish stocks that people like to fish.
“That’s why [Recreational] Fish SA support the proposition that these areas be kept for those marine environments.”
Mr Hunter says the Government made several changes to the marine park plans after consultation.
“Port Wakefield residents are – some of them – unwilling to accept the compromise position that we adopted. I understand that but we think we’ve got the best outcome we possibly could get,” he said.
Opposition vows to scale back size of exclusion zone
National marine management plans signed off under Labor have recently been scrapped by the current Abbott Government.
State Opposition spokeswoman Vickie Chapman says a Liberal Government would reduce the size of the zone in upper Gulf St Vincent.
“Under a Liberal Government, the top of St Vincent Gulf would have an exclusion zone that would be different and less,” he said.
A total of 21 fishing licences have so far been accepted for surrender.