The War On Fishing!
  |  First Published: November 2008

The government’s ‘War On Terror’ is something every one of us is well acquainted with. Special laws with far reaching powers have been passed to deal with terror suspects. The new amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act that went before the Senate a few weeks ago, seems to be targeting anglers in the same way. But anglers are not Terrorists!

The government has openly declared war on fishing thanks to the efforts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority backed by the Green movement and the Marine Park Tour Operators.

How could the Labor Party, the stalwart of the man in the street and protector of the civil liberties of the masses, support such an indictment of its principles? How could it be so hypocritical as to persecute a section of its community that seeks to pursue a lifestyle that promotes a healthy, active outdoor activity? How could it seek to exclude people from a section of their ‘backyard’, a place they’ve been using and enjoying for generations just to appease a mob of their bureaucrats that are intent on punishing a major stakeholder of their sphere of influence because these people had the audacity to question their very dubious integrity?

The amendments will change the aim of our park from shared “wise use” to conservation first. It will also legislate the ‘precautionary principle’, which means that they don’t need to use science to justify closures. Guess what that will mean?

At the beginning of October, this draconian new legislation had been blocked by the non Labor senators and an inquiry ordered. In the amazingly short time frame for submissions, less than two weeks, a total of 142 examples were received, mostly from angry fishers. However, when high profile legal agencies like the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties express serious concerns, the amendments obviously seek to establish dangerous precedents.

In part, the new legislation removes the burden of proof from GBRMPA officers and places it on the offender, declaring those people ‘guilty’ until proven innocent, hardly acceptable under our modern justice system. But it is how these ‘guilty’ persons are defined that is extremely disturbing.

Fishing means any of the following:

• Searching for, or taking, fish;

• Attempting to search for, or take, fish;

• Engaging in any other activities that can reasonably be expected to result in the locating of, or taking of, fish;

• Placing, searching for or recovering fish aggregating devices or associated electronic equipment such as radio beacons; and,

• Any operations at sea directly in support of, or in preparation for, any activity described in this definition.

Now the way I read this, once you leave a boat ramp, you fit this definition. It’s not only illegal to go fishing in a green zone, but just looking for a fish is now illegal. Does that mean using a sounder in a green zone will be illegal?

If your trip involves crossing any part of a green zone in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, no matter how small, you can be fined and prosecuted. Admit your projected course to Marine Park officers or register it at the local coast guard and your guilt is proven. Run your sounder while on the water, take a handspool in the boat, wear a fishy T shirt … the ludicrous examples go on and on, and you are not just a suspect, you are guilty!

This is nothing short of a blatant attempt to exclude fishing from the Great Barrier Reef. The Greenies and the Reef Tour Operators (who want the reef all to themselves) are rubbing their hands with glee. And it won’t stop there! You can bet these regulations, if implemented, will eventually apply to all marine parks, including Moreton Bay.

Don’t think all this has happened out of the blue. I’ve warned readers and the tackle/boating industry a number of times that such an agenda existed, as have other politically enlightened fishers such as Australian Fishing & Lifestyle Party leader Kevin Collins. We’ve largely been ignored or labelled as scaremongers. Well, it gives me no pleasure at all to remind you all that ‘We told you so!’

This is a major assault on the fishing industry and our personal rights. If we don’t stand up and be counted this time, we will lose the battle of the right to go fishing!

When a government entity such as GBRMPA, with its abysmal record of performance and abuse of power, can reply to damning criticism by persecuting the people it has already disenfranchised by seeking to deplete their civil liberties even further, then our political system is in a very poor state. The Libs created the mess, now Labor is ready to set it all in concrete.

Do fishers have the power to overturn the tide that is working against us? Most definitely!

But on past performance, not likely, unless a lot more of us get off our backsides and let our politicians know how we feel. – Dave Donald

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