Sunday 19 May 2013

Queensland's new marine mammal legislation a leap backwards for whales and industry

With the release on 9 May 2013 of its revised marine mammal legislation (Nature Conservation and Other Legislation Amendment and Repeal Regulation [No. 1] 2013), the Queensland Government has missed an opportunity to improve the standard of marine mammal protection in Queensland and has instead made changes that will have a negative impact on the management of human-whale interactions. The new laws are also likely to cause serious harm to Queensland’s whale watching industry.

Carefully selecting his statistics, Environment Minister Andrew Powell stated that the humpback population is increasing at around 10% per year. He neglected to say that even today, 49 years after having been provided global protection by the International Whaling Commission, these humpbacks have still only recovered to around half their pre-whaling population.

Chanting its tiresome mantra of “slashing red tape”, the Government has removed two declared Areas of Special Interest for the conservation of whales. Until now, commercial whale watching operations were not allowed in Area 3 (Moreton Bay - Fraser Island) and Area 4 (Gold Coast - Moreton Island), providing two stretches of coastal water where humpbacks could undertake at least part of their migration without the presence of tour operators.

Not satisfied with eliminating this level of protection however, the Government has also stripped away the requirement for all commercial whale watch operators in Queensland waters to hold a permit.

The existing permit system within the Hervey Bay and Moreton Bay Marine Parks will remain in place. But now virtually anyone with a boat can start up a whale watching business in any State waters outside of marine parks. As a result, commercial whale watching and its impacts will be extremely difficult to monitor, understand, evaluate and manage.

A practical, permit-based system is the only means of maintaining a world’s best practice commercial whale watching industry in Queensland; one that provides the greatest benefits to cetaceans, commercial operators and whale watching customers.

And this has not only been the view of the AWCS. At a meeting on 4 March 2013, attended by three Queensland Ministers (Environment, Tourism and National Parks), commercial whale watching operators from across the State unanimously called for the retention and expansion of a simple, State-wide permit system. That meeting ended ominously, with the Ministers erroneously placing the permit system into the “red tape” pigeonhole and reiterating the Premier’s intention on cutting it.

By removing Areas of Special Interest 3 and 4 and discounting the importance of retaining a uniform permit system throughout State waters, the Government invites the rapid, uncontrolled, undetected and unmanaged expansion of commercial whale watching.

On the same day that the new legislation was announced, Queensland Tourism Minister Jann Stuckey announced a “record $500,000 tourism package” promoting Fraser Coast as Australia’s signature whale watching destination.

It is the view of the AWCS that the needs of whales and of the commercial whale watching industry would have been better served if the half-million dollars had been allocated to retaining and enhancing the commercial whale watching permit system.


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