Underwatertimes.com News Service - October 17, 2011 20:38 EST

Environment groups, divers and tourism operators have rejected negative claims by fishing lobby groups about the impact of new marine sanctuaries, instead agreeing they will be produce a win-win for regional economies and marine life.

The coalition of environment, diving and tourism groups said today that fishing lobby groups had been deliberately misleading about marine sanctuaries, which they maintain will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy.

Contrary to claims by fishing lobby groups, a recent consultation period attracted more than 40,000 submissions in support of marine sanctuaries. Less than 150 submissions were lodged opposing increased sanctuary protection.

Tim Nicol from the Conservation Council of WA said claims made by the WA Fishing Industry Council and Recfishwest about the impact of marine sanctuaries had already been proven false by a consensus of science evidence.

"221 leading marine scientists have also written to the federal government calling for more protection of marine life and fish stocks in critical breeding areas near the WA coast," Mr Nicol said. "There is strong scientific evidence showing sanctuaries would benefit diving, tourism and fishing industries."

Diving and tourism operators have also backed marine sanctuaries to help boost the economy of the South West region. South West WA has been identified as a by Government as a 'tourism dependent region' due to the thousands of jobs and businesses that depend on the industry.

"The decrease in fish numbers across our dive sites is threatening WA's world class diving experience and our competitiveness as an industry," said Lee Johnson, Managing Director of Australia's Largest Dive Shop, Perth Scuba, "marine sanctuaries will protect our marine environment and ensure there is a fair balance between fishing and enjoying our marine life."

"Marine sanctuaries in the South West, particularly critical marine life areas in parts of places like Geographe Bay, will benefit a range of community interests within the ecotourism, recreational and corporate industries," said David Kerr, General Manager of the Dolphin Discovery Centre, the South West's largest marine tourism attraction. "We have a unique opportunity with this legislation to create strategically located sanctuaries that will secure marine habitat and breeding grounds for everyone's' future."

Even if high levels of protection are adopted in the final Government plan, the majority of waters in the South West will still be left open for fishing, while also creating much needed sanctuary areas for marine life.

"With less than one percent of our waters protected and seafood prices of species such as dhufish and western rock lobster at record highs, it is clear that overfishing and mismanagement, not marine protection, are the concern" Mr Nicol said. "The hysterical claims from the fishing lobby about marine sanctuaries are simply unfounded and irresponsible fear mongering. Science shows sanctuaries protect marine life and help fish stocks recover, the argument that marine sanctuaries are bad for fishing is a tired and old fashioned way of thinking."