It is not often people turn their backs on $100 million, but the Western Australia seaside town of Exmouth might be doing just that — cautious about what the money means.
Mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest made the $100 million pledge last week through his Minderoo Foundation, promising to protect the oceans.
Mr Forrest wants to spend the money on tracking global fishing patterns, research into plastics pollution, and to develop what he labelled a “world-class research facility” at Exmouth’s newly established Ningaloo Centre.
But the announcement had many locals in the 2,500-strong town up in arms as soon as it was made.
Their concerns centre around a call by the foundation last year to close part of the coast around Exmouth — and other fisheries around the state — to recreational fishermen and to have the sections declared habitat protection zones.
Now, they fear the pledge will give weight to those proposals.
Exmouth Game Fishing Club president Darren Roche said he was attempting to get all of the information before jumping to conclusions.
But he said the immediate reaction was “horror”.
“You’ve got to sit back and really analyse what’s behind it and what he’s trying to achieve,” Mr Roche said.
“Unfortunately, Mr Forrest was probably a pretty good station manager and he knows a lot about cows, and he’s proven that he knows a lot about iron ore, but I question what he knows about the sea.
“I honestly feel that the information that he has isn’t correct.”
Fishing lockout would ‘devastate community’
At the heart of the issue is the sustainability of Australia’s fishing stock.
Mr Roche said Minderoo Foundation’s proposal last year to close parts of the coast to fishing would hit the community hard.
“To have a total lockout would be devastating to the community as a whole, and probably not just to Exmouth — we’re talking about people that come from all over the world that come to experience the fishing here as well as everything else we have to offer,” Mr Roche said.
“Fishing is a huge part of it.”
The proposal was included in a submission by the Minderoo Foundation on the draft marine park management plans.
The Federal Government is expected to soon implement that marine park management plan, which was legislated by the former government.
A spokeswoman for the Minderoo Foundation confirmed the foundation and, as such, Mr Forrest stood by those proposals.
Sanctuary zones good for productivity, researcher says
University of Western Australia Centre for Marine Futures director Jessica Meeuwig, who was collaborating with the Minderoo Ocean Research initiative, said the zones only formed a portion of the entire marine park.
“If fishers are actually really concerned about the long-term sustainability of their fisheries, they should welcome these because these sanctuary zones are the engine room of fisheries’ productivity, and what they will mean is that you will have fishing into the future,” Ms Meeuwig said.
“What we’ve seen from around the world is that in the absence of marine protected areas, we just see constantly declining stocks, so the long-term view for the community is about recognising these sanctuary zones is what is going to ensure that they have long term economic benefits from game fishing.”
Ms Meeuwig said the presentation put forward by the Minderoo Foundation last year was one that presented “good science”.
“You need to have protection that goes from the coast all the way out to sea and not just a random little corner in the south west,” she said.
Sharks impacting catches
Brian Snook has been a recreational fisher in Exmouth for 32 years and said there were many factors at play.
“Fish stocks have dropped absolutely but now the last few years, the last five years, they are picking up,” he said.
“When they brought in all these new limits restricting what you can take, I definitely noticed there are lot more fish in the shallows.”
He has also noticed many more sharks since the shark fishing industry was halted, which he said was also an important part of the conversation.
“Now, you’re losing three out of four fish you’re catching to sharks,” Mr Snook said.
“There’s a massive push by recreational anglers to bring back shark fishing.”
WA ‘already managing fisheries well’
According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s 2016-17 State of the Fisheries Report, 95 per cent of fish stocks in WA were not at risk from fishing.
Murray Lewin, a recreational fisherman who moved to Exmouth in 1993, agreed with the report’s findings.
“WA has got one of the best-managed fisheries going,” he said.
“WA fisheries are doing an outstanding job, it is so well managed.
“The only difference I’ve noticed over the years is sharks, but once you start mentioning sharks you open up another discussion all together.
“You’re losing more and more prime fish like reds and trouts to the sharks rather than what the fishermen are catching and bringing home.
“You talk to all the locals … It has just blown out, so the argument about the fishing taking all the prime catch is a joke I reckon.”
Matt Gates has spent 20 years in Exmouth and said the only reason the suggestion had weight was because of Mr Forrest’s identity.
“If the average Joe went to the Government and said ‘I want to do this’, would they listen?” he asked.
“He’s buying his way into this, it is just because of who he is.”
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