Unnatural pursuits: Marine scientists are calling on the O'Farrell government to reinstate ban on recreational fishing. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
More than 200 marine scientists have called on the O'Farrell government to reinstate a ban on recreational fishing in coastal waters with high conservation values.
Last March the government introduced what it said was a temporary lifting of restrictions on shore-based line fishing at beaches and headlands in six marine parks with no-take sanctuaries pending an assessment of the impact.
The scientists, worried that the government may be about to make the "amnesty" permanent, issued a joint-statement calling for the reinstatement of protected zones "in keeping with well-established and proven scientific practice".
NSW has six multiple-use marine parks, including Cape Byron, Solitary Islands, Port Stephens-Great Lakes, Jervis Bay, Batemans Bay and Lord Howe Island. They account for about 7 per cent of NSW's state waters, and extend 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) from shore.
"These are the exact habitats probably being affected the most by recreational fishing," said Will Figueira, a marine ecologist at the University of Sydney, and one of the scientists leading the petition.
Dr Figueira said the public often underestimated the impact of on-shore fishing
"Removing animals is not natural," he said. "When you sum it up, it's a quite large number of animals that are being removed."
The March decision was controversial because it appeared to be linked to winning support from the Shooters and Fishers Party for unrelated bills on public sector wages. Scientists say the decision for a temporary lifting of the ban was also unaccompanied by efforts to establish a baseline to study the impact on eco-systems.
Acting Primary Industries Minister Andrew Stoner said the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel had conducted an assessment of the impact of the amnesty, which the government was considering.
"The NSW Government is committed to ensuring a science-based approach - which considers environmental, social and economic impacts - is used in the management of the marine estate."
David Booth, a professor of marine ecology at the Sydney's University of Technology, said the risk was that allowing shore-based recreational fishing would open the way for spear-fishing and fishing from boats in the sanctuaries.
"It's the thin edge of the wedge that we're worried about," Professor Booth said.
He added that scientists were surprised the government would open sanctuaries "without a shred of science" about the effects of the move, pledging only to do a risk assessment of the change.
"It's like saying, 'let's chop down all the trees and do an [environmental impact study].' "
Daisy Barham, a marine campaigner from the Nature Conservation Council, said it was vital that the government secured the future of areas that science had determined to be crucial.
"Having marine sanctuaries is vital to the marine life for future generations. Partially protecting areas does not have the same effect as full protection," she said.