'There are genuine concerns': Marine Parks fishing bans could be junked

Nervous Liberal MPs are being assured by cabinet ministers that plans to impose bans on fishing at sites across the NSW coast - including Sydney Harbour - will be quietly shelved.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian only last month unveiled the plans for the creation of a new marine park, consisting of 25 sites between Newcastle and Wollongong, including parts of Sydney Harbour, inside which fishing would be banned or restricted.

But the disastrous Wagga Wagga byelection result, which saw the Liberals lose a seat they had held for 60 years, has exacerbated a backbench revolt against the proposed marine park plans.

The plans for the creation of a new marine park was only unveiled last month.

Photo: Marina Neil

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said no decision would be made until after consultation period finished on September 27, but left open the possibility the proposed fishing lockouts at some sites may be scrapped.

"It's premature to say the policy is getting dumped. To say it is a [fishing] lockout across 25 sites is incorrect. But I do acknowledge there are genuine concerns from the fishing fraternity," Mr Blair said.

"There are some areas that even the fishers like, but granted it is not all 25 sites."

The policy has stoked considerable anger among recreational fishing communities, because it proposed banning line fishing and spear fishing across a number of the sites, including popular spots such as Shark Point near Clovelly and Henry Head at the entrance of Botany Bay.

However, other proposed sites do not involve any lockouts. For example, the policy proposes a 200m exclusion zone around Lion Island, inside which boat speed limits would be restricted to protect the local penguin population.

Terrigal MP Adam Crouch, whose electorate encompasses the Bouddi National Park site, where it is proposed the existing fishing lockout zone be expanded from 252 hectares to 1484 hectares, has publicly slammed the proposal one that was "too extreme and won't work for my community".

One Liberal MP said the issue had become "very sensitive after the Wagga byelection" and there were "sizeable objections" from the backbench.

It is understood some cabinet ministers are keen to salvage parts of the policy, but the political will may have dissipated after the Wagga outcome and the entire policy could be placed in the too-hard basket.

Another backbencher, who opposed the policy and was assured by ministers it would be scrapped, said proceeding with it would only serve to drive votes towards the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party at the March election.

"It will allow them to gain recreational fishing votes and use those votes to push for some more unsavoury polices like watering down of gun laws," the MP said.

Several MPs complained the policy served to shore up support for MPs in electorates such as Coogee, Manly and North Sydney, where the Greens voter base is growing, at the expense of the Liberal base in more conservative electorates.

One of the largest proposed fishing lockout zones is for a 2028-hectare site from South Bondi to the northern end of Coogee Beach.

One of the largest proposed fishing lockout zones is for a 2028-hectare site from South Bondi to the northern end of Coogee Beach.

Photo: James Brickwood

Coogee MP Bruce Notley-Smith, who was one of the government's strongest supporters of the policy, holds his seat by a margin of 2.9 per cent.

"You can't have the team's entire agenda being driven by a few isolated liberal seats with a high greens vote," one backbencher said.

The MP said the Wagga result was a "wake-up call" to the party's leadership that "issues like this can't be risked any more."

"There's a lot more comfort around the backbench that we're not likely to see this progress. No more bans," the MP said.

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