Catholic Earthcare Australia adopts discredited Green agenda

Catholic Earthcare Australia adopts discredited Green agenda

Pat Byrne

Policies backed by Catholic Earthcare Australia in Let the Many Coastlands be Glad will put thousands out of work and environmentally damage the Great Barrier Reef and other Pacific reefs.

The Pastoral Letter was issued by the Queensland Catholic Bishops.

On the one hand this recent Pastoral lists threats to the reef like raw town sewage, which governments with political will can solve by installing sewage treatment plants.

But the pastoral loses credibility in focusing primarily on the Federal-Queensland Government agreement to increase the "Green Zone" areas closed to fishing from 4.6 percent to 33 percent of the reef. The document claims this is necessary as the Barrier Reef is suffering from over-fishing, and praises the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) for having "led the way" on the new Green Zones.

"Over-fishing"?

To put the issue of "over-fishing" in context, the fishing take from the Great Barrier Reef is a negligible 17 kg per square kilometre per annum. This is what one fisherman on holidays would take in a day's fishing from his runabout - a couple of mackerel, a coral trout, a cod and a red emperor.

In stark contrast, some of Australia's Pacific Ocean neighbours like Fiji and Palau take between 3,000 and 10,000 kg per sq km annually, while a few like Tarawa (Gilbert Islands), Tuvalu and Western Samoa take between 20,000 and 67,000 kg per sq km a year.

To describe the Barrier Reef as "over-fished" is a sick joke in Queensland fishing circles and among reputable scientists. Instead of GBRMPA's expanded Green Zones saving the reef, the policy will lead to chronic environmental destruction of Pacific island reefs, for several reasons.

First, while Catholic Earth Care recognises that "only 1% of the world's reef systems are heritage protected", it completely misses the point that as environmentally sustainable fishing of the Great Barrier Reef is being closed down in stages, Australia is importing more and more fish from the already overfished reefs of our Pacific region neighbours.

In those countries there are no reef environmental management systems in place. Their fish stocks are being severely depleted and their reefs are suffering from destructive fishing practices - like fishing with dynamite and cyanide!

Second, GBRMPA justified the expanded Green Zones by claiming that "a decline in the viability of one fishery is inevitably followed by switching to a new fishery."

But this has not been a problem on the Great Barrier Reef due to sustainable fishing practices. Fishermen, scientists and governments agreed years ago to limited fishing seasons, limits on catches, protected breeding grounds and many other rules to ensure that fishing on the reef is sustainable.

Ironically, the huge expansion of Green Zones may lead to overfishing as the best fishing grounds are to be closed to fishermen, who will then be forced to exploit the limited areas left to make a living, invariably causing the destruction of fish stocks.

Third, the Pastoral endorses GBRMPA's claims that many fish species are "fully exploited" as a further reason for the expanded Green Zones. Yet this claim has been repeatedly discredited. For example, neither the size of the catch nor the size of the fish caught has decreased. This is because of the adoption of sustainable fishing practices many years ago.

As Kevin Collins, a leading fishing advocate, recently pointed out in Brisbane's Courier Mail, hard coral reef systems are effectively self-contained ecosystems: "Your average coral trout will be born there and die there and not swim more than 500 metres away." So when fish spawn each year, they replace the local fish stock that had been lost due to predators, disease or fishing. This means that those reefs that are not fished for a year or two quickly fully restock.

That is why Queensland fishermen advocate the split Reef system - closing one side of the reef one year to allow it to replenish itself while fishing the other side, then reversing the process the next year. "It makes scientific sense," Mr Collins said.

He suggested that the Green Zones system was "a green-driven PR stunt supported by a government who wants to look like it's green but it isn't. They target fishermen because we're easy. But they do nothing about crown of thorns [starfish], industrial run-off, about dumped sewage, leakage or anti-fouling or the impact of millions of tourists who converge on the Reef every year."

Job losses

The pastoral seems to be ignorant of the politics of GBRMPA which was set up by the Federal Government as a green governing body for the Great Barrier Reef in exchange for securing Democrats' support for the Goods and Services Tax in the Senate.

The Pastoral claims that "the majority of recreational and professional fishermen have worked closely with government agencies" in developing the new Green Zones. This is nonsense. Commercial fishermen have hotly argued against the proposals and protested against the new regulations. Recreational fishermen opposed the new plan to the extent of forming the Fishing Party to represent their interests. They scored 29,000 votes in the last Senate election.

Thousands of Queensland fishermen, and others in supporting businesses, face the loss of their livelihoods in the next year or so. Yet the Barrier Reef Pastoral contains a mere two paragraphs expressing concern about the effect of the new Green Zones on fishermen, with no mention of their families or the effect on their regional communities, where commercial fishing is worth $119 million and recreational fishing $240 million annually.

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