History of NSW Marine Parks :
In 1998, the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council developed a set of guiding principles for the creation of Marine Protected Areas , informed by expert conservation science, which was accepted by all Australian jurisdictions (except ACT)
Criteria for the design and placement of these marine protected areas was to take account of internationally recognised ‘CAR’ principles under the National Reserve System. The clear priority was to ensure places were afforded the appropriate level of protection so that biodiversity would be preserved while accommodating for social and economic benefit where possible.
After the NSW Marine Parks Act 1997 was legislated, the existing Solitary Islands Marine Reserve was reclassified as a Marine Park and the Jervis Bay, Lord Howe, Cape Byron, Port Stephen-Great Lakes and Batemans Marine Parks were declared over the course of the following 6 years under NSW Labor Government.
All Marine Parks in the current networks are Multiple-Use Marine Parks that allow for a range of extractive and non-extractive use, in designated zones. The main zones in use in NSW are General Use (33% of the network area), Habitat Protection (48% of the network area) and Sanctuary Zones (19% of the network area).
In 2011, the Coalition Government came to power in NSW and implemented a number of regressive changes to the network to fulfil election promises made by National Party candidates. They transferred management of Marine Parks from the Environment portfolio to the Department of Primary Industries (fisheries). Decisions relating to Marine Parks in NSW, however, must be agreed by both Ministers.
In 2013 the NSW Government attempted to remove protection from 30 marine park sanctuary zones across the state. After protracted consultations, it was decided to reduce the number of zones affected to 10. This was not legally finalised until 2018.
The “Marine Estate Management Act 2014” replaced the earlier NSW Marine Parks Act (1997) and provided for the creation of the Marine Estate Management Authority, a coordinating mechanism of the relevant public service departments rather than a stand alone body with independent functions, staff and budget. This Authority is responsible for “undertaking threat and risk assessments, developing management strategies, promoting collaboration between public authorities and fostering consultation with the community.”
The framework for management of Marine Parks in New South Wales no longer includes consideration of the internationally recognised ‘CAR’ principles for protecting biodiversity, but instead uses a “Threat and Risk Assessment” framework commonly used in (and more appropriate for) business and industry.
In 2018 the Coalition Government proposed a Sydney Marine Park to fill the gap in the network on the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion. The proposal included only 2.4% of the park to be designated fully protected no-take marine sanctuaries. The proposed marine park was put out for public consultation 6 months out from an election and after substantial backlash led by the Shooter, Fisher and Farmers party the proposal was shelved. There has been no attempt by the Coalition Government to finalise the Sydney Marine Park proposal.
The current situation (July 2021):
In 2019, recreational fishing was already allowed in 93% of all of NSW state waters, including in 80% of existing marine parks (which themselves only make up 34% of NSW state waters).
Despite the clear availability of areas for recreational fishing in NSW, in December 2019, the Minister for Primary Industries announced that recreational fishing would be allowed in six Batemans Marine Park sanctuary zones (no-take areas) – ie, illegal activity in these areas would not be prosecuted, pending the consultation required by legislation before they could finalise the proposal legally.
There was no meaningful consultation or scientific basis for the decision, which was made without the input or consultation of the Marine Estate Management Authority, the Marine Estate Expert knowledge panel, marine park advisory groups nor marine park managers including the Batemans Marine Park manager. Staff at the Department of Primary Industries who manage the Marine Park were taken unawares.
In early 2020, the Minister for Primary Industries made public comments stating the government’s intention to repeat this process across the state, and allow recreational fishing in other marine sanctuaries in the marine park network starting with the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park.
In contrast, the Minister for Environment made public statements in late 2020 that the sanctuary zones in Batemans would be restored, and that proper consideration would be given to expert scientific advice.
While there has been no clear, or public announcement, the Government is now proposing a “network management plan” to administer common aspects across all the mainland marine parks. Advisory committees for marine parks across the state have reportedly been frustrated on progress of this plan, by heavy and confusing load of documentation, poor consultation with communities, changes of direction and lengthy delays.
The “network management plan”is required to be the subject of public consultation before being adopted. After this, steps will be taken to consider issues of zoning (spatial management) of each marine park separately. This will also have to be subject to statutory consultation.
It is now expected that the issue of the Batemans sanctuary zones will be folded into the broader process of considering marine park zoning (spatial management) for each NSW marine park, AFTER the proposed “network management plan” is realised. The Batemans marine sanctuaries are still in legal limbo 20 months later, and have been open for fishing all that time.