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Let's be fair to the Great Barrier Reef's fisheries-dependent families, too

By Tor Hundloe and Daryl McPhee - posted Wednesday, 22 October 2003

Governments have written much good environmental policy and most industry people have recognised the benefits of being green. The commercial fishing industry is a prime example of the latter, with its adoption of turtle exclusion devices and industry-led environmental management systems. It is recognised worldwide as a leader in environmental initiatives.

But a serious new challenge for this, and many other industries, has arisen. How do we treat the small businesses which want to be green? Not that well, if the Great Barrier Reef fisheries are an example.

Queensland fishers face the prospect of losing up to 30 per cent of their fishing grounds. When people are forced to give up rights, income and jobs for a conservation objective, presumably to benefit the entire community, they deserve compensation.


We are not talking about multibillion-dollar enterprises here, rather small family concerns - men and women who work very hard in a dangerous profession for less than the average public servant's pay.

Proposed fishing bans will hurt these families. We know from work overseas that the impact of such bans on fishing families is profound.

When the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Commonwealth body responsible for the multiple-use marine park, decided that for biodiversity protection reasons much more of the marine park should be off-limits for fishing, it tended to believe, and hence tell politicians, that there would be no loss to fishers.

The argument was that even though the same number of fishers would be pushed into a much smaller area, the fish population inside this area would grow and replenish the outside areas.

The nation's most eminent marine scientists, researching through the Reef Co-operative Research Centre, are still struggling to find consensus on this and other marine park matters.

Our study shows (pdf, 644Kb) that the loss to commercial fishers will be high - at $23 million a year to wild-capture fishers (targeting prawns, sweetlip, coral trout, Moreton Bay bugs, and so on) and $15 million a year to the prawn farming industry. These sums do not take into account impacts on businesses associated with recreational fishing, including charter fishing businesses.


Also, losses to business associated with the commercial fishing sector, such as boat repairers, seafood restaurants and the tourism industry were not considered - an economic rule of thumb suggests consideration of the impacts on these businesses will double our "at the beach" values.

There is a clear link between tourism and locally caught seafood. We need to keep in mind that the tourist city of Cairns has the highest per-capita seafood consumption in the country. "Throwing a shrimp on the barbie" is still a uniquely Australian tourist experience.

There are many precedents for paying compensation in circumstances similar to this one. Before the Wet Tropics (Daintree rainforests) became a World Heritage area, $73 million was made available to timber-getters, sawmill operators and workers who were stopped from taking timber.

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This article was first published in The Courier-Mail on 16 October 2003.

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About the Authors

Tor Hundloe is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Management at The University of Queensland.

Dr Daryl McPhee is a lecturer in environmental management at the University of Queensland.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Tor Hundloe
All articles by Daryl McPhee
Related Links
Great barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
University of Queensland's Environmental Management Centre
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