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Plans to increase no-fish zones at Great Sandy Marine Park worry Queensland’s seafood industry

An industry body says it’s a win for conservationists and recreational fishermen, but fans of seafood and commercial fisheries will pay the price for proposed changes at one of Queensland’s largest marine parks.

The state government has released a draft of the new Great Sandy Marine Park zoning plan, which will see green areas increase from 3.9 percent to 12.8 percent.

The Great Sandy Marine Park extends south from Baffle Creek in the Gladstone area to Double Island Point, with Hervey Bay, Great Sandy Strait, Tin Can Bay and waters off the east coast of K’gari (Fraser Island).

“We want to boost some tourism and recreational fishing opportunities and protect the threatened species that live in this area,” Environment Minister Megan Scanlon said.

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“This would mean increasing the green area by nearly nine percent, protecting famous species: whales, dugongs, turtles, dolphins.”

Fishermen say the proposed restrictions could shut down fisheries in the area.(ABC Wide Bay: Joanna Marie)

But the Queensland Seafood Industry Association said the expansion of fish-restricted areas did not pay much attention to local fishermen, and felt the government had ignored their concerns.

“The plan will have a significant impact on fresh fish supply…95 percent of the Great Sandy Marine Park’s net fisheries will be closed,” CEO Eric Perez said in a statement.

Dolphin faces under threat

A group of Australian humpback dolphins is frequented by the Barnacle Café in Tin Can Bay, which tourists feast on fresh fish from the Great Sandy Marine Park.

“We are implementing state government legislation that clearly states that dolphins must be fed with product from the Great Sandy Marine Park,” said owner Benjamin Dunston.

“Removing commercial fishing from there removes the opportunity to do so, which as an indirect effect leads to removal of dolphin forage.”

Mother and daughter feeding a dolphin in Tin Cannes Bay
Tin Can Bay Dolphin Center is a popular tourist attraction and relies on fresh seafood.(ABC News: Joanna Marie)

Dunston said the proposed closures would have a ripple effect on his business.

“It’s a huge drawing card of Tin Cannes Bay, just this morning for the school holidays [we had] More than 300 people are here to feed the dolphins.”

“It’s a blow from the regulator’s pen, who has not been on the ground before and doesn’t see what’s going on.”

Seafood lovers to pay more

In an area known for its fresh, local seafood, restaurateurs said the restrictions would drive up prices and force businesses to look for produce farther afield.

“It could mean we need to outsource across Australia or even import products from abroad,” said Dean Major, owner of Hervey’s Bay.

“We prefer serving directly from the fishery to the table.

“The prices are constantly increasing. We also have to be careful if the fisherman has to travel longer distances, then of course it will increase the prices.”

A man in a yard holds a plate of seafood.
Dean Major, a restaurateur in Hervey Bay, says businesses may have to look abroad for supplies.(ABC Wide Bay: Joanna Marie)

Environmentalists rejoice

WWF Australia said net-free areas are best practices in marine park planning.

“They have chosen a little of each type of habitat to be fully protected from fishing activities,” said chief coastal community specialist Jim Higgs.

Great Sandy Marine Park is home to 22 endangered species, 23 habitat types, and two Areas of International Importance.

Map of the Great Sand Marine Park
The proposed map of the Great Sand Marine Zoning Plan.(Supplied: Queensland Government)

The broader yellow areas would also protect and supplement the green areas, Higgs said.

“Yellow areas cover large areas of the Great Sandy Strait and some rivers and creek systems that are so important to the dolphins and dugongs that the Gulf is home to,” he said.

Scanlon said more details will come about providing more coastal infrastructure, such as boat ramps and artificial reefs.

Scott Mitchell, president of the Fraser Coast Fishing Alliance, said the plans were a fair compromise.

“Any recreational fisherman would agree that you must protect your marine environment in order to restore, protect and rebuild fisheries,” he said.

Where from here?

The state government will hold community consultations on the proposed plan through October 23.

Ms Scanlon said the government plans to announce a financial package available to commercial fisheries affected by the proposed restrictions.

“We want to work through that with the commercial fishing industry, which is why we want to sit down and listen to them,” she said.