More than 150 people are planning to paddle into the water on surfboards, kayaks and floaties at Bar Beach in Narooma on Saturday, 21 November, as a way of peacefully protesting the Batemans Marine Park rezoning.
Environmentalists have been outraged since NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall and Member for Bega Andrew Constance decided, in December 2019, to relax rules in Batemans Marine Park to give recreational fishers more places to fish.
Five areas previously off limits were approved for activities, including catch-and-release recreational fishing, line fishing and spearfishing.
Event organiser Bill Barker, from the Save Batemans Sanctuaries community group, says he hopes the group’s first paddle out will be positive, but expects several recreational fishers who are opposed to the sanctuary zones to attend.
“It’s a small community down here, and we know many of these people [recreational fishers opposed to sanctuaries] anyway so we’re hoping it will just be another chance to engage with others because, at the end of the day, everyone – including recreational fishers – wants to see a healthy marine environment,” he said.
Euro Fishing Association president Adam Martin said some local fishing clubs have been given permission by the police to hold their own event to express their views on the sanctuaries at the same time as the paddle-out.
Mr Martin has been told members of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party are attending and possibly other politicians.
The paddle-out will be filmed by drones and aims to increase the NSW South Coast community’s awareness of the issue, said Mr Barker.
He said he hopes the paddle-out shows the relevant members there is a broad constituency in Eurobodalla who supports the sanctuaries – not just environmentalists.
“The reception locally has been very positive to this event and it’s been an opportunity to reach out beyond the usual group of people interested in marine and environmental issues, including younger people, traditional owners and ecotourism operators,” said Mr Barker. “It’s not just a few conservationists fighting with a few recreational fishers – there is a broader issue in this.”
The Save Batemans Sanctuaries community group promotes science that shows marine sanctuaries benefit marine ecosystems and produce more fish.
“The sanctuaries were put in place 13 years ago to allow marine life to flourish undisturbed and to protect crucial feeding and fish nursery areas,” said Mr Barker.
He added it was pleasing to hear the NSW Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean tell the Nature Conservation Council’s annual conference – earlier in November 2020 – that he supports reinstating the sanctuaries.
Mr Kean said he will soon visit Montague Island with Mr Constance.
“I’m going to convince some of my more sceptical colleagues about the wonderful treasures and assets we have in our environment,” Mr Kean told the conference. “It’s not an easy task, but it is one worth fighting for.”
The paddle-out will begin at 11 am on 21 November, and there will be a chance for discussions on the beach afterwards.