Australia

Fishing lockouts 'off the table' after NSW government cops widespread backlash

There will be no new fishing lockout zones along the NSW coast, as the state government scrapped a key element of its marine park strategy after it faced a substantial backlash from fishing groups.

The backflip comes just weeks after the Berejiklian government unveiled its plans for a new marine park consisting of 25 sites along the coast including parts of Sydney Harbour, inside which fishing would be banned or restricted.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair with Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as the government unveiled its marine park plans last month.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair with Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as the government unveiled its marine park plans last month.

Photo: AAP

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair confirmed on Monday the lockouts were "off the table", announcing the decision with more than a week to go before the consultation process concluded.

"One thing that is very clear to me as Minister for Fisheries is that the proposed lockout of fishers in the 25 sites is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

"While consultation will continue, I felt it was paramount to allay the uncertainty and fear the fishing industry is currently experiencing."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian also came under pressure from members of her backbench to dump the proposed lockouts, amid concerns the bans were politically unpopular, particularly in marginal coastal seats where the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party had been campaigning heavily on the issue.

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The policy enraged recreational fishing communities, because it proposed creating new "sanctuary sites" as well as expanding existing protection site, where line fishing and spear fishing would be banned. The sites included popular Sydney fishing spots such as along the Coogee foreshore, Shark Point near Clovelly, and Henry Head at the entrance of Botany Bay.

Daisy Barham, a campaign director with the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said sanctuary zones were "really critical for preserving out marine environment."

"It's extremely disappointing to see that the minister has jumped the gun on his own consultation process and effectively has ruled out the people of NSW having a say," she said.

Greens MLC Justin Field accused the government of caving into "vested political, industry and media interests," alluding to influential 2GB radio host Ray Hadley's pursuit of the issue.

"This backflip increases the likelihood of MPs in marginal seats being targeted again and again by narrow vested interests in the lead-up to the State election."

Mr Blair denied the move was a backflip, and instead characterised the decision as the response of a government "listening to the community".

"This isn't a backflip. A final decision had not been made yet," Mr Blair said.

He also sought to distance the government from lockout proposal, saying the Marine Estate Management Authority had recommended the proposed sanctuary sites.

“What is now clear is that their proposed management methods and in some cases the sizes of the sites, offered up a narrow option that unfairly impacted on low risk activities, such as fishing and spear-fishing," Mr Blair said.

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