11 March 2021

Maritime expert and oyster farmer quit, another sacked from Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee

| Hannah Sparks
Join the conversation
Narooma Marine Rescue volunteer Ross Constable.

Ross Constable has resigned as Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee’s maritime representative. Photo: Supplied.

A lack of consultation by the NSW Government with the Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee has prompted two members to resign, while another has been sacked for sending a fiery email citing his dissatisfaction with the nomination of a member as chair who is in favour of abolishing no-take zones.

Former Montague Island Nature Reserve ranger and current Narooma Marine Rescue volunteer Ross Constable quit last week, while Narooma oyster farmer Brian Coxon resigned in 2020 in protest of the government’s decision to scrap six areas that were previously off-limits to fishing activities in the park.

“This committee was established by the state government to be the ‘voice for the local communities’ according to its own handbook,” said Mr Constable. “There was no formal consultation with the local community as far as I’m aware, and certainly not with the committee.”

Mr Coxon said he found out about the government’s decision from a press release and that it was a “waste of time” sitting on a committee that isn’t listened to.

READ ALSO Important roadworks in Batemans Bay and Moruya in the lead up to Easter

Moruya oyster farmer Nicholas Thorne replaced Mr Coxon on the committee, but was sacked after his first meeting when Dr Philip Creagh nominated himself as chair.

“Philip said he was a former vet and interested in marine biology, but when I did a background check, I found Philip is a former recreational fishing representative and an opponent of no-take zones in the marine park,” said Mr Thorne. “I felt he was seriously misrepresenting himself.”

Dr Creagh has been quoted in the media as supporting the abolishment of the no-take zones and calling comments made by environmental groups in favour of the zones “greenwashing”.

Moruya oyster farmer Nicholas Thorne.

Moruya oyster farmer Nicholas Thorne was sacked from the Batemans Marine Park Advisory Committee in 2020. Photo: Supplied.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) told Mr Thorne his fiery email to Dr Creagh was defamatory and disrespectful, and therefore breached its code of conduct.

Mr Thorne sent an email to DPI director general Scott Hansen apologising and offering a retraction, but he was never reinstated to the committee.

The controversial decision to relax park rules to give recreational fishers more places to fish was made by NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall and Member for Bega Andrew Constance in December 2019.

Six areas previously off-limits were approved for activities, including catch-and-release recreational fishing, line fishing and spearfishing. They included Brou Lake South (catch-and-release recreational fishing); Montague Island South and East (recreational line fishing, spearfishing and diving for abalone, lobsters and other invertebrates); Clarks Bay-Freshwater Bay and Forsters Bay (recreational line fishing and spearfishing, but no use of nets or traps); and Nangudga Lake (recreational line fishing and prawning using a handheld scoop).

Environmentalists say the changes add stress to endangered fish, seals, sea birds and kelp forests.

READ ALSO Bidding farewell to the old Bay Bridge and its operators as new structure soars

The DPI is currently reviewing overall management plans in the park and Mr Thorne fears the committee is stacked against advising in favour of the no-take zones now that he, Mr Constable and Mr Coxon have left.

Both Mr Coxon and Mr Constable say at least some of the park should be protected if it’s to have a future.

“We have to lock up some of these places or there will be nothing left,” said Mr Coxon. “I grew up on the water and we used to think we can’t fish everything, but we can.”

A seal at Batemans Marine Park.

Environmentalists say the abolishment of no-take zones adds stress on endangered fish, seals, sea birds and kelp forests. Photo: Save Batemans Sanctuaries.

Recreational fishers in favour of fishing in the previously protected zones argue the amount of fish they catch in the rezoned areas is minimal.

Mr Constable said he agrees, but added the marine park is also under pressure from climate change and pollution from the mainland.

“There are a lot of stressors and fishing is one,” he said.

“I’m not proposing we close the entire park to recreational fishing, but some of the park has to be protected where natural processes can occur. These areas constitute less than 20 per cent of the 850 square kilometres of the marine park, which I don’t think is much to ask.

“The question is: how much do recreational fisherman want?”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I visited Freshwater Bay this weekend for the first time in 18 months after spending years and years enjoying it for it’s natural beauty, swimming, boating, skurfing, snorkelling, sailing, being a part of the wooden boat festival and so much more so – only to discover that since the change in marine park there is now a broad scale oyster lease across the most part of the bay, making it practically no longer navigable, less beautiful and basically primarily a commercial enterprise. I don’t expect to ever see another seal enjoying the bay, boat stopping for a picnic, or person swimming across the beautiful water. I am most significantly saddened that after the passing of the original oyster farmer who held the lease that used to mark the shallows of Freshwater bay, who removed his lease in the interests of recovering the bay and campaigned for it to stay that way, a new oyster farm has been build with three times the area of the original one and a much greater impact.

How sad.

Deborah Williams10:55 am 20 Mar 21

Australia tops the charts with regard to species extinction and here again we see those in power making decisions that increase our footprint and further diminish biodiversity, totally disregarding the expertise and knowledge of those attempting to bring logic and sanity to the negotiating table. Recently published studies confirm that many Australian ecosystems are in big trouble, yet our policy makers persist with an attitude and mandate for “business as usual” at any cost. When you are not mindful and fully aware of your place in the natural world , choose to ignore the research and are motivated by greed and lust for power, then nothing is sacred, worth protecting.

Conservative politicians used to warn against “ extreme green” policies and candidates. What a joke given the mess we now find ourselves in. What we are now confronted with i.e. degradation and collapse of ecosystems, climate change, revering GDP – the almighty dollar above all else, are all byproducts of years of mismanagement underpinned by “ extreme brown” politics disguised as something legitimate. If and when voters take the trouble to get fully and accurately informed, going to the polling booth with a focus on the “big picture”, rather than petty issues, then maybe we can see some positive change before it’s too late.

Philip Creagh1:48 pm 16 Mar 21

Thank you Ms. Stevenson for your response, however I’m unsure why you need be aggressive about this discussion. You may not be aware that Veterinary Science is one of the professions that requires post graduate studies to remain registered to practice. Until I retired I attended generally one major international conference per year and several smaller ones, since I retired I have maintained that interest. A significant component of my post grad studies were in fisheries science, relating to sustainable fisheries production. There is considerable cross-over between the two disciplines of fisheries and production animal science.

I note you have performed biodiversity assessments and have made presentations to Eurobodalla Shire Council several times in the last couple of years you have resided here. Surely in this field there can be a wide disparity in views?

There are many, many science papers presenting arguments both for and against ‘no take zones’, both in the international and Australian literature. I firmly believe it is important to really apply critical thinking principles and argue the points made, rather than disparage the authors.

I support the position of Professor Buxton (UTAS, Tas. Aquaculture and Fisheries), Emeritus Professor Bob Kearney DSc, AM (Professor of Fisheries, Uni of Canberra ), as well as the work of Professor Daryl McPhee, Dr. Caleb Gardner and Dr Matt Landos amongst a few. As ‘no take zones’ are purely spatial fisheries management tools I believe it’s important to have fishery scientist’s views front and centre.

However notwithstanding that if you believe that sanctuary zones will be the saviour of fisheries, then you should read the NSW Marine Estate Management Act (2014) and the associated Marine Estate management strategy, 2018 – 2028. The important thing to consider is the identified threats from the statewide threat and risk assessment and the associated five step process to identify and address the threats.

Thankfully you make the point that the challenges are climate change, pollution and invasive marine species. Yet instead of addressing these issues, we should be closing off areas to fishing? Why fishing? – It is the only identified threat that has been seriously addressed in the past 25 years.

Below for your interest of readers are some dot points that are relevant to this discussion:
• Commercial and recreational fishing is managed by NSW Dept. of Primary Industries (Fisheries). Regularly a ‘Status of NSW Fisheries’ report is published. Over the last 30 years a remarkable transformation has taken place in NSW Fisheries, such that today no fish stocks, except for two, are considered ‘overfished’. Management steps are being taken to correct these two species.
• This success is NEVER lauded in the media due to the relentless ‘doom and gloom and catastrophe’ media output by eNGOs. This is what is reported.
• The objective of the NSW Marine Estate Management ACT (2014) is to conserve marine biodiversity in all its forms. (NOT to ban fishing)
• ‘No take zones’, as fishery management tools, will NOT improve fish stocks in anything but heavily degraded fisheries. The NSW marine estate is NOT a degraded fishery.
• Logically there WILL be more of a fishery targeted species in a ‘no take’ zone. However ONLY if that species is sedentary or shows site specificity (ie. Abalone or snapper). Certainly not in mobile or pelagic species. Ie. Flathead, kingfish and tuna spp.
• In NSW waters there is an increase in some species in ‘no take’ zones. However this increase has never been demonstrated to be significantly greater than surrounding waters.
• The downside of ‘no take zones’ is that they increase the fishing pressure in the surrounding waters – OR the fishery production declines by the amount that is protected. For example the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had its no take zones increased by 30% in 2004 – ‘To protect and enhance the reef’. By 2020 UNESCO was threatening to take it off its list as a site of significance. The reason? – marine scientist from James Cook Uni and Uni of Qld had completely disregarded the pollution that was damaging the reef and were blinded by the supposed ‘benefit’ of no take zones. The result – the federal government removed funding from these Universities in 2019, much to the chagrin of eNGOs.
• Local eNGOs do NOT believe pollution is an issue in our area.
o In Sydney harbour NO commercial fishing is permitted. Recreationally caught fish west of the Harbour Bridge should NOT be eaten. Fish caught east of the Bridge should be eaten in strict moderation. According to the eNGOs – This pollution, that the east Australian current carries down to our coast, a week or so after Sydney, has somehow disappeared?
o All the inlets on the coast ban the harvesting of oysters after significant rain events. For instance after >25ml of rain in 24 hours, Wagonga Inlet is stopped for three days. And so on.
o All this is to protect human health – what is it doing to marine biodiversity, particularly fish eggs? The eNGOs do not seem to mind.
• There is negligible research done in NSW on the effects of pollution (direct stressors as well as endocrine stressors) on fish eggs, larvae and juvenile fish. As well there is NO research on the effects of pollution on marine biodiversity. This is mainly due to some marine scientists blinded by the ‘benefits’ of no take zones. However this is slowly turning around as some research is now taking place.

Deborah Stevenson10:18 pm 15 Mar 21

In response to Mr Creagh, who purports to have done numerous studies in marine science over the last 25 years, I was unable to locate any peer-reviewed studies authored by him in any of the marine science research databases I searched. It also appears that he only reads authors such as Colin Buxton and Robert Kearney who support his position and are well known critics of marine sanctuaries with links to commercial and/or recreational fishing organisations.
The paper by John Turnbull et. al that Mr Creagh mentions appeared in Conservation Biology https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cobi.13677 which is a highly regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journal. Dr John Turnbull is in fact a post doctoral fellow (not a mere PhD candidate) at the University of NSW and the paper is co-authored by Emma Johnston, Professor and Dean of Science at UNSW. Mr Creagh only quotes Colin Buxton’s critique of this very comprehensive paper, not the key findings, which are:
1. Fully protected areas (such as sanctuary zones) within marine protected areas (such as Batemans Bay Marine Park) have well-documented outcomes, including increased fish diversity and biomass which improves over time, as well as fewer invasive species such as urchins. They are well understood, supported and valued by the public. However, these no-take zones constitute only a small proportion (<20%) of these marine protected areas.
2. The effectiveness of partially protected areas (such as areas where various forms of fishing are allowed) is more doubtful. The fish diversity and biomass was little better than unprotected or open areas. While they constitute the largest part of the marine protected area, they were poorly understood by the public and there was an associated issue with non-compliance combined with little formal enforcement activity.
3. Most importantly they believe conservation outcomes can be improved by upgrading partially protected areas to higher levels of protection, including conversion to fully protected areas.
They recommend that at a time when we are facing increasing challenges from climate change, pollution and invasive marine species etc. we should be aiming for more fully protected areas, not less! I wonder if Mr Constance has read their paper, Mr Creagh certainly hasnt.

Philip Creagh8:20 am 14 Mar 21

To Ms Stevenson and other people on this site interested in marine conservation. Ms Stevenson you don’t have any idea of the studies I have done in marine science over the past 25 years so I will provide an article from a marine Phd candidate and a comment from a Professor of fisheries. If you only read and digest papers that support a position than that is the antithesis of science. There are many peer-reviewed papers that dispel the notion of ‘no take zones’ in well managed fisheries.

‘No Take zones’, such as Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly should be provided for the social benefit of snorkelers and scuba divers. That is a social benefit, not a fishery management tool.

A paper was published in ‘the Conversation’ an online scientific blog https://theconversation.com/75-of-australias-marine-protected-areas-are-given-only-partial-protection-heres-why-thats-a-problem-149452 The lead author was John Turnbull.
A criticism of this article is in the comments section of this article from Professor Colin Buxton, Emeritus Professor, Fisheries Aquaculture and Coasts Centre IMAS, University of Tasmania

“Readers should be clear about one thing – Australia prides itself in having one of the largest marine reserve networks in the world, designed to conserve biodiversity through the management of human activities according to internationally accepted IUCN guidelines.

Locking fisheries out of 30% of the ocean serves only to stress the remaining 70%. Seafood is a critically important food source and sustainable fisheries can and should be perfectly consistent with the conservation objectives of Australia’s reserve network.

One should also be aware that no-take marine protected areas are not ‘fully protected’ as the authors would like you to believe. They prevent fishing and other extractive uses but do little to prevent other more pervasive threats to marine biodiversity such as climate change, plastic and other sources of pollution, introduced marine pests and sedimentation.

‘We found partially protected areas had no more fish, invertebrates or algae than unprotected areas’. But your study in fact found that open areas had more fish that the partially protected areas (Appendix S6). One has to ask whether these areas were inherently different and whether the conclusions you draw are valid?

‘Fully protected areas, by comparison had 30% more fish species’. Is this a typo? I couldn’t find this in the published article and would be very surprised indeed if this were the case.

‘On the other hand, fully protected areas were attractive to locals and visitors for their abundant wildlife and level of protection. They had twice as many divers and more than three times as many snorkelers compared to unprotected areas’. Is that anything remarkable. They are national parks. Are you advocating more no-take areas for biodiversity conservation or for tourism?

Your study also found general public to be confused about the protected status of our marine environment. I’m not surprised.

One has to look no further than the health of the Great Barrier Reef which has declined from ‘significant concern’ to ‘critical’, this despite the fact that it has for some time had 30% ‘fully protected’ green zones.

As long as MPA ideologists continue to perpetuate the myth of fully protected areas the public will remain confused about the level of protection of their marine environment.”

Deborah Stevenson9:54 pm 13 Mar 21

The science behind Marine Sanctuaries is proven, both here in Australia and overseas. As a biologist, I have read and understand the peer-reviewed scientific papers that support the establishment of sanctuaries to protect a range of marine species and their habitats. Recreational fishers such as Mr Creagh and Mr Clark and politicians such as Mr Constance are uninformed and have a clear agenda of supporting a well-funded and noisy lobby group that wants unfettered access to our coastal waters no matter what the consequences are for our marine biodiversity and our future fish stocks. Mr Creagh should be removed from the Advisory board to be replaced with a marine scientist and the sooner Mr Constance quits politics (as he indicated he would after the bushfires)the better.

Alexandra Seddon10:25 am 13 Mar 21

It is time to step in on behalf of all ocean life. There are enough problems for all sea life without fishermen making things worse. We cannot go on with the old practices of just take take take. It is urgent that all of us start cutting our luxury consuming habits back.

Philip Creagh7:48 am 13 Mar 21

I was never contacted by Ms. Sparks for my comment.

A disappointing story that only tells half the truth. Mr. Thorne’s THREE emails (not one) sent to the whole committee were defamatory.

The committee was given a different reason for Mr. Coxon’s resignation, and Mr Constable’s resignation also included a significant sentence, not reported.

I always thought that ‘About Regional’ was one of the higher quality on-line news source, not inclined to agree now.

We’ve destroyed the land and mismanage the river systems. Now let’s ensure the oceans are choked. With the amount of fish caught by the commercial industry, there is absolutely NO need to encourage taking even more and more out of the sea! When will people stop being selfish and think they are entitled to destroy this planet on the basis of “entertainment”. NOT survival, but sheer selfish entitlement 😡

Doesn’t look like any consultation has occured , apalling situation.

You’d think Andrew Constance as local member would have had more sense than to vote for the legislation. I guess he thinks his seat is safe so he doesn’t care about voting against the interests of his own electorate.

How did these guys ever get selected for the Advisory committee needs to be asked by the Government ? The person that was likely to have approved them would be the Manager trying to surround himself with yes People The ones that resigned are green activist wanting to shut Narooma down with 30% sanctuary zones on the agenda they have which means the closure of Montagu Island to everyone So what is the point of a Maritime expert and an oyster farmer on the committee for a start ? The BMP has had 16 years to produce some sort of science to substantiate any SZ and have produced nothing but lies by second rate so called academics’ pretending to call themselves scientist Remember this area was PRISTEN before the Marine Park and still is so why have one in this area ? Its all political and if they were fair dinkum Wollongong or Newcastle would have been done years ago but wait lets kill the little towns. I had one run on the advisory committee and was making to much common scene for them but was told you never lie with science as you will get caught and this is what the politician’s know now on a closing note the Island has that many seals breeding there they are feeding on that much fish it’s structure is being destroyed by sea urchins

Dallis Tanner11:11 am 12 Mar 21

What a travesty! Thanks so much to Ross Constable, Brian Coxon and Nicholas Spark for their work defending the no take strategy that had and should still be in place. There has been no public consultation at all. I do not agree with this reduction in protection of our marine park. Shame on Andrew Constance, Adam Marshall and as for Phillip Creagh, where are your ethics? How is it possible to nominate yourself? That should not occur and reflects very badly on this committee who does not appear to be following due process. Shame!

Philip Creagh5:46 pm 12 Mar 21

MS Tanner – I ‘put my name forward’ as all members who were interested in the position were asked to do. Prior to the first meeting not one other person had nominated to be chair.

I am offended by your aspersion on my ethics. More details will come out.

Outrageous behaviour by the NSW government. They make decisions without consulting their own committees.
Surely they should be protecting and listening to the oyster farmers
who have an interest in keeping clean waters. Eurobodalla is meant to be the Nature Coast. What a joke! Andrew Constance cleary does not care about nature!

The decision to open up the area for fishing is incredibly self centred and idiotic

Shameful behaviour by the NSW government. Clearly the decision to cut back to the already minimal protection zones was made as some time ago (by the nsw government, pushed by the transport minister – minister).
The pretence of community consultation (replicated by the ESC) is really depressing, and leads to increasing disillusion with government at all levels.
Well done to those who make an effort to stand up to these bullies. We will overcome!

Do we want to preserve areas for endangered or under pressure species, or do we want to continue destroying our dwindling natural environments to satisfy our own recreational pursuits? The proponents of opening up these sanctuaries are so self interested and do not care about the state we are leaving the planet for future generations. Shame on Andrew Constance and the NSW Government.

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.