Mermaids try to turn the tide

Bondi Mermaids founder David Hempton wants Bondi aquatic reserve protected from recreational fishing.

Bondi Mermaids founder David Hempton wants to see Camp Cove, North Bondi and the Bronte to Coogee aquatic reserve protected from recreational fishing. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Touchy-feely descends to argy-bargy as Mermaids try to turn the tide.

By: Kelsey Munro Source: SMH Online February 3, 2012

WHY isn’t the marine life at the world’s most famous beach protected? That’s what snorkellers, divers and marine biologists want to know. But they’re picking a fight with recreational fishers who say that “touchy-feely” moves such as creating a marine park at Bondi would have no impact on biodiversity.

Snorkelling group the Bondi Mermaids have 2000 signatures on a petition pushing for the state government to carve out three “passive use” or “no-take” zones in the east, where line and spear fishing would be banned.

The group wants Camp Cove, North Bondi and the Bronte to Coogee aquatic reserve – “potential future hotspots of biodiversity” – to be protected like Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly.

Recreational fishing is permitted along Sydney’s eastern beaches except taking blue groper and spearfishing between Clovelly and Gordons Bay. Cabbage Tree Bay is the only strictly “no-take” zone on the northern beaches. Aquatic reserves at Long Reef, Narrabeen and Barrenjoey are open to recreational fishers, with limits.

Bondi Mermaids spokesman David Hempton said it would be fair to ban fishing from a small portion of Sydney’s coastline to allow habitats to regenerate.

“We just want 2 per cent of the eastern suburbs protected for passive users who want to see mature, diverse and abundant sea life,” he said.

The group’s submission to the Independent Scientific Audit of Marine Parks, commissioned by the state government last year, cites Cabbage Tree Bay as a model for future marine parks.

The idea is backed by marine biologist Will Jones from the Bondi Marine Discovery Centre.

“Everything has to be in balance but at the moment it isn’t,” Mr Jones said. “You can fish anywhere you like but there’s no areas in the urban context put aside for passive use. It’s an equity issue.”

Dave Thomas from Eco Divers has dived at Cabbage Tree Bay since 1991 and said the 2002 creation of a no-take zone made a big difference to marine life.

“At any time there will be upwards of 100 species of fish, which increase in summer with the influx of tropical and migratory fish,” he said. “This is three to four times greater than unprotected areas.”

But Malcolm Poole, from the NSW Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the Cabbage Tree Bay model “doesn’t work”.

“These people are on the wrong track. Touchy-feely things don’t work,” he said. “Understand that rec fishers are conservationists, we do respect our seas and care for the future.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Primary Industries said no-take zones could generate “a range of benefits … however for these benefits to be maximised proper planning and a thorough assessment of the current habitats is required.”

The audit report would be released shortly, she said.

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