Isn’t at least part of the point of having a wildlife sanctuary to protect wildlife? It’s a place where nature is safe from human destruction and exploitation. “Sanctuary” means safety. A place where I might be hunted or caught for food is not any kind of sanctuary I’d seek. But if you’re a fish in the Australian State of New South Wales you’ve now got nowhere else to hide.

After having made it temporarily legal last year, government of NSW recently moved to permanently allow recreational fishing inside the “no take” zones of the state’s marine parks. A whopping 220 marine scientists have come out to condemn the move and persuade the government to maintain strict no-fishing zones. According to marine ecologist Dr Will Figueira of the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences and president of the NSW branch of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell opened up these areas without consulting scientists or basing the decision on research.

Eastern Blue Groper-Achoerodus viridis in NSW waters. Pic: Sylke Rohrlach (Flickr CC)

From Phys.org:

The concern felt by the science community, both in NSW and internationally, is of such significance that an unprecedented number of scientists have been motivated to write to the premier.

Permanently allowing fishing in protected no-take sanctuaries will undermine their conservation value. No-take zones are essential for maintaining healthy marine life over the long term and serve as buffers against the risk of over-fishing.

– Marine ecologist Dr Will Figueira, University of Sydney

Meanwhile pro-recreational fishing groups have celebrated the move and are accusing the opposing scientists of holding a political agenda. Though what kind of powerful political agenda would turn 220 scientists against hobby fishers is a bit unclear.

We are pleased the Coalition Government has listened to Australia’s recreational fishers and are conducting a scientific review of the proposal, which will give a sensible balance for Australia’s unique marine environment. It was clear that the decisions to ‘lock’ recreational fishers out of vast areas of our seas by the previous government was not scientifically based and was done to meet a political agenda.

–Allan Hansard, Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARRF) (via fishingworld.com.au)

Starting to sound a bit like paranoid climate change denial to me. And if you continue to read the Fishing World magazine article it just gets worse. I mean apparently there is a huge conspiracy against anglers involving big money American and international environmental groups rather than a serious overfishing and biodiversity problem, right?

Hyam's Beach, Jervis Bay Marine Park, NSW. Pic: Paul D'Ambra (Flickr CC)

Dr Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens’ NSW fisheries spokesperson and herself an environmental engineer, criticized the government’s moves to open up marine sanctuaries to fishing as “grubby political deals” with the Green Party’s political polar opposite, the Shooters and Fishers party.

I am a bit more prone to believe Faruqi than the guy from ARRF, but then again I’m not really into sport fishing myself. I do happen to have more faith in the words of marine scientists than political lobbyists for hunting and fishing when it comes to the health of the world’s seas. I’m just gullible that way.