Preserving our marine wealth: an economic evaluation of the proposed Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network

4 Jul 2012

This report looks at the proven benefits of marine parks for fish stocks (and therefore for the fishing industry), and estimates the value of ecosystem services provided by areas to be covered by the new marine parks.

It also puts the modest and short-term economic impacts of the new marine reserves on the fishing industry in context, noting the need to avoid the flaws in the Great Barrier Reef compensation package, and looking at the advantages of designing compensation to support the long-term profitability of commercial fishers in Australia.

Key findings:

• CPD’s analysis shows that the new National Marine Parks in the Proposed Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network cover an area that provides $1.2 billion a year in ecosystem service value that is not recognised in our economic accounts, bringing the total value of Australia’s fully-protected Marine Parks to $2 billion a year in ecosystem services.

• CPD has estimated the value of ecosystem services covered by the fully-protected National Parks only. We have calculated the economic value provided by four categories of marine ecosystem: coral reefs, seagrasses, coastal shelf and open ocean. Each of these areas provides services of value such as nurseries for fish, carbon storage, etc.

• Australia can be very proud of having taken such a strong step to protect its marine resources. Preserving the marine environment will help to secure Australia’s marine economy, underpinning the long-term productivity of our marine estate.

• The Proposed Marine Reserves Network covers 36% of Australia’s marine territory. The fully- protected part, the National Marine Parks, cover 13% of the total. In the other 23% recreational fishing is allowed and some kinds of commercial fishing, varying by zoning. Most of the reserve restricts the most damaging forms of fishing including bottom trawling – this is likely to deliver long- term benefits for recreational fishers and commercial fishers using more sustainable practices.

• The National Marine Parks, areas closed to fishing, are an essential part of preserving marine ecosystems and marine life, including fishing for the longer term. Given the high economic value provided by coral reefs, seagrasses, and coastal shelf areas, more of these areas should have been included in marine parks under the Proposed Marine Reserves Network

• Marine parks have been shown to have numerous benefits, leading to larger fish and more biodiversity. The parks make marine ecosystems more resilient to environmental shocks and act as restocking areas for the surrounding waters. Studies show that in the long run they provide benefits to fishers. Recent studies on marine parks in the Great Barrier Reef find that they are working as they are supposed to – rebuilding the biomass of local fish populations in ways that are likely to deliver long-term benefits to fishers.

• The Great Barrier Reef compensation package, which blew out to $250 million, would form a very poor precedent for compensating fishers who are displaced by the Marine Reserves Network. The Finance Minister at the time, Nick Minchin, thought that the Great Barrier Reef package was too large. Initial estimates of the value of fishing production displaced by the Great Barrier Reef rezoning were $14 million a year, but dropped to $3-$7 million after accounting for the fact that many fishers were able to shift to other areas. Initial estimates are that $11.1 million a year of commercial fishing production may be displaced by the newly announced Marine Reserves Network. $100 million, a figure flagged by Minister Tony Burke as available for compensation, would be a generous compensation package.

• Compensation should be implemented along the lines of the ‘Securing our Fishing Future’ package to ease rather than displace long-term pressures on fish stocks and the profitability of the fishing industry.

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