Dr Andrew Rowland, Recfishwest CEO, and Operations Officer Sam Bock were recently on the south coast listening to the concerns of local fishers about the potential impact of DBCA’s proposed marine park.
Stretching along 1,000 km of coastline from Bremer Bay to the WA/SA border, many local fishers told Andrew and Sam that the marine park already has a predefined political outcome and will be an unnecessary overreach coming out of Perth.
These concerns have been stoked by the bad publicity surrounding the consultation process to date.
While there, Andrew was also in the news on the front page of the Esperance Weekender and was on ABC Esperance, Goldfields, Mid-West and Wheatbelt calling for the consultation process to get back on track to enable a balanced outcome to be achieved.
Being able to drive on the beach to your favourite fishing spot to wet a line is what makes living on the south coast so great.
And for those with dogs, taking your canine friend along for the ride merely adds to the enjoyment.
However, we are hearing increasing concerns from south coast fishers that these freedoms (which are already restricted on some beach stretches) could be under serious threat in the proposed south coast marine park with DBCA’s track record in park management.
These concerns are understandable with a catalogue of closures and bans imposed by DBCA on fishers and beach-goers across the State:
A track record of blocking tracks
Many fishers, particularly on the south coast, will be familiar with abrupt loss of vehicle access in areas managed by DBCA – as these examples (just a few of many) illustrate:
Following frequent south coast rains, track closures in areas such as Cape Arid National Park, Nuytsland Nature Reserve, and Stokes National Park are common. Current restrictions in these areas are severely limiting access to popular fishing spots such as Poison Creek, Thomas River and Stokes Inlet. Poor weather and track closures throughout winter is already the norm here – additional restrictions in the new marine park are the last thing the local community wants to see.
Middle Quarram Track, located near Denmark in the Quarram Nature Reserve, was closed indefinitely in March of last year “until declared safe” according to a DBCA parks alert due to a build-up of soft sand. No diversion has been put in place since and there has been no indication from DBCA of plans for the track to reopen.
In the Shark Bay Marine Park, driving below the high-water mark is only allowed in designated areas throughout the park, and is completely prohibited in recreational zones and sanctuary zones.
Any fisher on the south coast knows that driving on beaches – often below the high tide mark – is a necessity for accessing many of the most valued fishing locations. And at many times these areas are already inaccessible due to the environment on the South Coast – be it soft sand, deep wash-outs or build-up of seaweed.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “The potential implications of the marine park zoning on beach driving are concerning, particularly in combination with the frequency of track closures in the multitude of national parks along this stretch of coastline.
“Marine parks are supposed to be there for the benefit of all park users. These kinds of restrictions prevent fishers, a huge user group, as well as general beach-goers and campers from enjoying parks and all the mental, physical and well-being benefits fishing and being in these spectacular environments bring. This defeats the park’s purpose in the first place.”
Tightening the leash
For many residents and holidaymakers, part of the appeal of the south coast is to relax on a picturesque, secluded beach with your family and pets, while wetting a line.
Responsible dog owners who frequent this stretch of coastline will already be painfully aware of the wide-ranging restrictions on where you can take your dog, with numerous large national parks along the coast prohibiting pets.
We have heard feedback from many south coast fishers that most of their favourite fishing spots are dictated by these current restrictions, choosing to fish in locations where they can take their furry friends along for the experience.
Now with the proposed south coast marine park looming closer, a serious cloud of doubt hangs over the future of being able to take your dog to the beach or on your fishing trips anywhere between Bremer Bay and the WA/SA border.
DBCA has a very clear policy and history when it comes to allowing dogs in marine parks:
According to DBCA’s website: “Your animal may travel in a boat in a marine park or reserve but must not enter or exit the boat within a marine park or reserve and must remain inside your vehicle if transiting through an adjoining national park”.
Under the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (‘CALM Act’), a person may not bring an animal onto lands or waters managed under the CALM Act, which includes national parks and marine parks.
Out of 200 DBCA-run marine parks, nature reserves, regional parks and national parks just 35 allow pets – and usually restricted to on-leash and only within small, designated areas. Dogs are not allowed in any marine park other than on boats.
The proposed marine park will span more than 1,000 km of coastline, from east of Bremer Bay to the WA/SA border and will likely include all beaches and coastal areas up to the high-water mark, save for a small radius around Esperance townsite covered by Port waters.
This means that many of your favourite fishing spots, assuming they are not locked away in a sanctuary zone in the new park, could be off-limits for your dog.
Andrew said, “For many on the south coast, the prospect of going fishing or going to the beach and leaving your dogs at home is absurd.
“Again, DBCA needs to be made aware imposing restrictions on a large section of the south coast community in this way will simply not be acceptable.”
“This will make it even more critical for south coast fishers to make clear what is important to you, when details of the proposed marine park are released for public comment in the next couple of months.”
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction’s (DBCA’s) marine park on the south coast has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons.
From shire council presidents, to leading members of the marine park’s Community Reference Committee (CRC), to community engagement officers, a growing chorus of voices have publicly criticised the direction the planning process has taken in the last few months (see some of their comments in the news and on social media below).
“There is mounting concern that our freedom to fish beaches and offshore areas prized by generations of south coast residents and visitors is on the line, “ said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “With our own experiences of it to date, we share the community’s concerns that the planning process for the marine park has gone sideways.”
Fishing community input appears ignored
As part of what was promised to be an open, transparent and genuine consultation process, Recfishwest was requested to provide a clear understanding of the fishing areas and experiences valued highly by recreational fishers.
Through a series of community meetings and survey feedback from hundreds of south coast fishers a data-driven picture of the places that matter most to fishers was generated by Recfishwest.
“We have provided this detailed feedback to DBCA, yet this input appears to have been completely ignored,” said Andrew. “In the interests of an informed and transparent consultation process, it would be entirely reasonable to expect to see a comprehensive social economic impact assessment of a marine park on the region. Yet, despite claims made in Parliament that one has been undertaken, we have seen no evidence that this is the case.”
The need for balance
Fishing and camping along south coast beaches with friends, family and your dog is part and parcel of the south coast community’s cultural and social fabric. Recfishwest strongly advocates that these activities must be conserved in any marine park along with the marine environment that supports them.
“The establishment of a marine park along the south coast must be balanced and should not deprive local communities from accessing popular fishing locations and beaches and all the well-being, family, social and economic benefits they provide to the local community,” said Andrew.
If you care about the south coast marine environment and enjoy fishing between Bremer Bay and the SA/WA boarder, it is important to have your say on the proposals once they are released for public comment. We’ll be keeping our community up to date on future developments.
Local resident and Community Reference Committee member Dr Kristen Perks, a respected marine biologist, took to social media to give her view on the planning process to date.
Dr Perks says DBCA ignored the input of DPIRD, their joint planning partner, in draft plans for the park put forward to the CRC for comment.
Dr Perks said, “It is unfortunate and disappointing DPIRD’s recommendations were not taken into account by DBCA. In my view DPIRD’s draft zoning recommendations had recognised and respected the socio-economic values of our local community and provided a good balance between conservation, recreation and commercial fishers.
“I believe with a marine park boundary spanning 1,000km from Bremer Bay to the South Australian border, SURELY, we can come up with a good compromise to enable marine sustainability whilst delivering the least impact on industry and the community’s ability to enjoy our local waters.
“I am prepared (and hopefully everyone is as well) to get on my soapbox to ensure we get balance for all parties and create a Marine Park we can all be proud of.”
South coast fishing stalwart and popular YouTuber Gideon Mettam – usually a moderate voice on fishing matters – has also fired up on his channels about the way he fears things might be going.
“Usually, I want nothing to do with all this political stuff, but this is too much. You all ought to have an idea of what’s going on ahead of time, so you’re ready to tell them where to shove their unnecessary sanctuary zones that will prevent us from enjoying the already pristine south coast.”
Petition gaining traction
A petition, organised by Esperance local recreational fisher Neil Pechar, has already amassed more than 2,800 signatures at the time of writing.
“We feel if we don’t speak up the Government will just run with it and we will lose a lot of our fishing areas and lifestyle which is pretty important for us in Esperance,” Neil told the ABC.
The Esperance Weekender recently reported the contract of the Esperance-based DBCA community engagement officer, hired to liaise with and help inform the community, was not renewed moving into the critical community consultation phase of the planning process.
“I feel disappointed and sorry that the broader community voice may not be heard as effectively as it should be going forward,” said the engagement officer. “There was every expectation that my role was for the entirety of the marine park planning process as clearly articulated in the Community Engagement Strategy endorsed by the former Minister.”
Recfishwest has hit out at further delays for improving safer fishing infrastructure at an infamous fishing location in our State’s South, more than seven years after the tragic deaths of two fishermen there.
Chunjun Li, 42, and Jiaolong Zhang, 38, were rock fishing at the infamous Salmon Holes in Albany onApril 18, 2015, during dangerous swell conditions.
Neither were wearing life jackets before they were swept into the water by a rogue wave. Mr Li surfaced on a nearby beach, but bystanders were unable to revive him. Mr Zhang’s body was never recovered despite an intensive land, sea and air search over four days.
After the tragedy unravelled, the deputy state coroner made five crucial recommendations. One of those was all rock fishers were required to wear life jackets at Salmon Holes, another called for Telstra to install a mobile phone tower in the area to ensure better phone coverage in the event of future emergencies.
The need for this tower is paramount as the only current mobile coverage at Salmon Holes is in the carpark – an extremely dangerous proposition for someone in an emergency.
Recfishwest continues to place a high priority on safe fishing information and infrastructure improvements as part of our safe fishing program.
Under this program, we call for better provision of communication infrastructure to allow for quicker response times from emergency services in the event of incidents involving fishers.
Telstra tried to install a mobile base at Salmon Holes several years ago where the men lost their lives as part of their mobile blackspot program, although the site was declined by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) due to their concerns on the visual amenity impacts of the national park.
No other locations could be negotiated, so the plans were abandoned. Telstra are now spending the next few months finalising the design of a new tower to be placed at Cave Point lighthouse, a 13.25-metre structure which sits between The Gap and the Blowholes in Albany.
DBCA have confirmed it was working with Telstra to assess the project’s feasibility. If the site is given the green light, construction is expected to start in March of 2023.
“The fact that it has taken all this time for Telstra and DBCA to come to an agreement for plans for a mobile phone mast eight years after these two men tragically lost their lives while rock fishing beggars belief,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “Furthermore, fact that construction on the mast isn’t expected to start until next year is simply unacceptable and is putting fishers’ lives at risk.”
“With the high levels of telecommunication technology we have in our society, there really is no excuse for popular fishing and outdoors locations such as this not to have phone coverage – and certainly not after a coronial inquest recommendations have been made for that to happen.
“We will continue to press for better telecommunications infrastructure on the south coast and other remote parts of the state where people go to fish – it’s a crucial factor in making sure everyone comes home safe after a day’s fishing, as well as all West Australian’s who enjoy experiencing our great outdoors.”
Telstra confirmed it signed a funding agreement for the project several months ago in liaison with federal and state governments. The lighthouse that is being touted as the new Telstra tower location is managed by DBCA and is closed off to the public.
Telstra also constructed a new coverage site at Emu Point back in June and other southern areas such as Pingrup, Spencer Park, Mount Adelaide and Jerramungup. All of these areas are expected to have completed 5G upgrades by the end of September.
Recfishwest also understands there are question marks over whether the phone mast coverage will extend to Salmon Holes. Clearly, more questions need to be answered here.