The New South Wales government has performed yet another about-face, ditching a proposed ban on fishing at 25 “no take” sanctuary zones in a proposed marine park stretching between Newcastle and Wollongong.
Just weeks after the government announced the plan to create the Sydney region marine park, the primary industries minister, Niall Blair, backed down on Monday after sustained opposition from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party.
The proposal would have restricted line and spear fishing in some sanctuary zones, and banned fishing completely in others. Despite the proposal still being out for public consultation, Blair said the government would scrap it.
“The proposed lockout of fishers in the 25 sites is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party had threatened to run in every coastal seat at the March state election if the government did not back down on the plan. But Blair denied it was a U-turn because the plan was still out for public consultation.
“The final decision hadn’t been made yet,” he said.
The NSW Nature Conservation Council said there was ample evidence to support the case for “no take” sanctuary zones and the government had jumped the gun.
“This decision undermines public confidence in the government’s consultation process which still has 10 days to run,” the council’s chief executive, Kate Smolski, said. “By caving into a noisy minority of voices and pre-empting the results of the public consultation, the government has denied thousands of people a say in the protection of our precious marine life.
“This is a betrayal of public trust that may cost the Berejiklian government dearly at the next election as people on the coast oppose scrapping the sanctuary areas.
“Polling last month showed that if the government backflipped on Sydney marine park many people in key coastal electorates would vote against the Coalition.”
The Greens MP Justin Field said the about-face was proof the government was pandering to vested interests rather than listening to the community.
“A majority of the community backs protecting our marine environment and coastline and this proposal for a network of protected areas, including marine sanctuaries, would help deliver healthy oceans and fish for the future,” he said.
The government had folded to political, industry and media interests which had run a concerted campaign that undermined democracy.
“To walk away from the marine network plan before the consultation process even concluded is a massive breach of community trust,” he said.
The government’s decision comes months after it changed its mind on the controversial stadiums policy and in the same term as the policy reversal on the greyhound ban, council amalgamations and emergency services levy.