RECREATIONAL anglers have raised the spectre of a massive new lock-out from waters nationwide under a re-elected Labor government.
Data pulled from proposals by a range of conservation groups suggests there could be at least a doubling of the 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean from which anglers are currently locked out, including many popular family fishing spots.
The passing into law this year of a series of federal marine reserves was criticised for their lack of a sound scientific basis. Their distribution, critics said, was based more on appeasing green groups than on accepted best practice for protecting marine life.
Now anglers fear a returned minority Labor government relying on the political support of green groups would massively increase the area in which fishing is prohibited.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt has promised the Coalition, if elected, would review the boundaries of the marine parks, which include parts of the Coral Sea off Queensland, areas off the Kimberley and other locations around the coast.
The Coalition failed in June in its attempt to bring a disallowance motion against the regulations for the reserves. Mr Hunt said yesterday any expansion of reserves would be "a massive grab which will make it virtually impossible for families to go out in the tinny and catch a fish".
Federal waters start three nautical miles (about 5.5km) from shore, which recreational anglers point out is an easily accessible distance for anyone with a boat.
Environmental scientist Bob Pressey, from James Cook University, was critical of the marine reserves' creation last year as having been "a political football" that did not protect sea life to the extent that was claimed.
"Politicians know that conservation gains can be sold in terms of total square kilometres covered, better than in terms of their real outcomes," Professor Pressey said.
And while he questioned anglers' claims that their activities were unduly restricted under the current marine parks regime, Professor Pressey nonetheless described the process under which it was produced as haphazard and counterproductive.
"Conservation is supposed to be about avoiding loss and averting threats, and if it's not about that, we've lost the picture," he said.
The marine parks scheme was promoted as a jewel in the crown of then environment minister Tony Burke and promoted as the world's largest such system, but by the time it was enacted, it covered considerably less area than that originally pushed for by environmental groups.
Lobby organisation the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation has produced a map based on all outstanding proposals by those groups for further lock-outs.
Foundation head Allan Hansard said the map, a copy of which The Australian has obtained, demonstrated "at least a doubling" of the areas under consideration.
"Our concern is that if we end up with another minority government, the (expansion of lockout zones) could be what we see over the next three years," Mr Hansard said.
He added that he had brought the matter to Mr Hunt's attention, but that attempts to meet with environment minister Mark Butler had been unsuccessful.
A spokeswoman for Mr Butler said the minister received hundreds of requests from organisations every week and endeavoured to meet with as many as possible.
She said Labor was committed to the sustainable management of fisheries.
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