Cull or conserve battle over SA marine waters

A Great White Shark named Bentley.

One of the world's most important shark hotspots faces an uncertain future, as a ten year battle over marine parks reaches its zenith in South Australia.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

One of the world's most important shark hotspots faces an uncertain future, as a ten year battle over marine parks reaches its zenith in South Australia. 

The state's fishing industry fears the loss of key fishing grounds could devastate seafood exports, whilst scientists argue restrictions now will mean more fish stocks for the future.

Marine park laws are due to come into force in October, but there's a last minute push to roll back the protections in 12 contentious zones.

However, as Karen Ashford reports some want the parks scrapped altogether and management handed to the fishing industry, along with powers for shark culling.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

"It's a big male, definitely a male is it, yep I've seen him (laughs)."

There aren't many places in the world where people are pretty much guaranteed to see a Great White Shark on any given day, but the Neptune Islands near Port Lincoln in South Australia is one.

Marine biologist Andrew Fox knows the sharks of the Neptunes better than most.

"We know them by name, and they've got different personalities. Over 20 years we've got a data base of hundreds of individual unique sharks, and we can track them, we can tissue sample them and we're starting to get a really good idea of their population biology."

By combining research with diving tours Andrew Fox hopes to shift public perception of sharks from mindless man eaters to ecological icons, whose equally iconic habitats deserve protection.

"We like to look at the Neptune Islands as an iconic spot for Great White sharks. We know it's the most important White shark aggregation site in Australia so we want to make sure that place is preserved, and there's a lot of other fantastic wildlife at the Neptune Islands as well."

Italian marine scientist Dr Alessandro De Maddelena says South Australia is a globally significant hotspot for Great White Sharks.

He's urging the state to avoid what he calls the disaster that has befallen the Mediterranean, where he says the loss of sharks has led to ecological collapse and the creation of a marine desert.

"You as Australians must be proud of your Great White sharks and must understand that the Great White sharks in these waters make the country more rich, because a live Great White makes a lot of money, a dead great white makes almost no money at all."

Biologists say like the once hunted seals, shark populations are recovering from the brink of extinction.

But some like tuna baron Hagen Stehr think there are too many sharks, damaging fisheries and putting lives at risk.

He says the fishing industry should manage the waters and advocates a West Australian style cull to manage shark populations.

"I believe there will be some culling, some time in the future there will be culling of sharks, because we will have other shark attacks. The fishing industry in South Australia and indeed Australia, I mean, they are the ultimate environmentalists, because what they're looking for - they're not looking for today and tomorrow, they're looking for the future, so they're looking after the resource far better than anybody else."

Andrew Ferguson is a 40 year veteran of the lobster industry who believes the marine parks are based on poor science and could force him out of business.

"They say that it's only 6% of waters but they're forgetting to tell you it is over 30% of sustainable fisheries grounds. And you can't rebuild fisheries that quickly and bring all this back - once people go broke they're gone from communities."

Andrew Ferguson fears the state's $280 million lobster industry is in jeopardy.

"We're a higher exporter than the wine industry, the dairy industry. It's very significant, it's a great renewable resource and it just doesn't make economic sense to risk any of that."

The state's opposition environment spokeswoman Michelle Lensink believes the marine parks process has ridden roughshod over commercial and recreational fishers.

Ms Lensink has drafted legislation to roll back protections in 12 key zones, the Neptune Islands amongst them.

"The most significant thing it involves is enables fishing to continue to take place as long as it's within the Fisheries Management Act. So the greatest impact was going to be on the commercial fishing sector, in particular rock lobster and abalone, which are fished sustainably I might add. But there's also a lot of recreational fishers who will be impacted."

South Australia's Environment Minister Ian Hunter says the government has bought back fishing licences and the economic impact will be just 1.7 per cent.

Mr Hunter argues there'd be much greater environmental impact if protections are wound back.

"These are the jewels in the crown, if you like. So whilst they say they're only reducing it by 12, they're actually going after the best, the hottest biodiversity spots out of all the marine park system. They're attacking areas that are crucial for protection of endangered species and also spawning grounds, breeding grounds for recreational fish."

The Bill to roll back protections will go to a Parliamentary vote on September 18.

Marine biologist Andrew Fox says it's inevitable that some people will be unhappy about the balance between protected waters and fishing rights, but he thinks people must trust the science and not compromise key habitats.

"I think people interested in rolling back to Bill in relation to the Neptune islands have got to understand that unique location is critically important for white sharks to be researched, and for the tourism industry itself. This is a unique place in Australia, the only place that people can come and learn about great white sharks, and without that appreciation of the sharks nobody will want to care about them, and it leads to the wider appreciation of the SA marine environment just by coming to the Neptune Islands in a pristine state."

SBS travelled to the Neptune Islands with the support of Rodney Fox Shark Tours.




Source World News Australia

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