26 Jul 2012
By Scott Coghlan
FOR an organisation that claimed a naval battle 70 years ago was proof of the need to lock Australian fishers out of our own oceans, the United States-based and oil company-funded Pew Environment Group was quick to accuse local recreational angling groups of running a misleading campaign.
Just days after an unseemly Pew video surfaced linking the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942 to their campaign for marine parks, even using the words of Australian war veterans as "evidence" for their stance, the rich environmental group sent an email out to its supporters accusing recreational angling groups of "misleading" behaviour.
The email was in response to the Keep Australia Fishing campaign, which can be found at www.keepaustraliafishing.com.auand offers recreational anglers the opportunity to send an email to Environment Minister Tony Burke, who recently announced the new network of marine parks in Commonwealth waters.
Already, many thousands of anglers have taken the couple of minutes required to have their say, but this has upset Pew, which was happy to coordinate a similar campaign in the previous round of public submissions, and indeed extensively targeted submissions from foreign supporters with web pages around the globe.
Outraged that Australian anglers should be allowed to have their own say, Pew fired out an email slamming "lobby groups" for "flooding federal Environment Minister Tony Burke with negative emails demanding that coral reefs be left open to fishing. They have placed two large advertisements in The Australian which are misleading and inaccurate".
I found it intriguing that anglers are mere "lobby groups" – one would think we Australian fishers are in fact stakeholders in how our ocean is managed and it is this foreign conservation goliath that is the lobby group.
The email from Pew came just days after I discovered a video on their YouTube channel about the Battle of the Coral Sea. The video ran for just under seven minutes and featured two war veterans and a naval historian. Both the veterans wanted more recognition for the Coral Sea skirmish within Australia, and this quote: "The Coral Sea ought to be remembered. It should be a memorial of some sort, some sort of maritime reserve and it should be protected more than it is" was seized upon by Pew, which commissioned the video.
The spiel below the video drew a tenuous link between the historical significance of the Coral Sea and the need to lock fishing out: "Through the Protect Our Coral Sea campaign, Pew's Global Ocean Legacy is working with Australian conservation organizations (sic) to help safeguard this unique area for the future," it said.
I spoke to the naval historian, who said he was simply asked by Pew to provide a historical perspective of the battle "four or five years ago".
While neither of the veterans could be contacted, one was believed to be in very poor health at the time of filming and has apparently passed away since, I spoke to representatives of the Returned and Services League (RSL), who were most interested to see the video. But when they tried to watch it the following day, it had mysteriously disappeared from the Pew Group's YouTube channel.
RSL national president, rear admiral Ken Doolan, who said the Battle of the Coral Sea was very well recognised with ceremonies every year, believed it was quite obvious why the video, which had been up for more than 12 months, suddenly vanished.
"I'm sure the two people they interviewed were well meaning," he said.
"The fact they have taken it down from the website suggests they (Pew) know it was beyond the pale."
At the same time Pew was lambasting Australian angling groups and pulling down dodgy videos, an open letter from Pew to the US-based Sport Fishing magazine exposed the sheer hypocrisy of its push to lock up our waters. Sport Fishing's editor Doug Olander had written a piece about the push for marine parks in Australia and warned that the US would be next, tipping the Gulf of Mexico as the next marine battlefield.
However, Pew director of federal fisheries policy Lee Crockett said this would never happen, as the Gulf of Mexico had too much economic and social value to the US.
"Closing the Gulf to all fishing wouldn't make sense – for fishing enthusiasts or the environment," he said.
"These waters are a major US economic driver.
"The Gulf offers excellent angling opportunities, and sport and commercial fishing generates billions of dollars and provides fresh seafood to much of the nation."
In the letter, Crockett describes himself as an avid angler who enjoys fishing the Gulf of Mexico.
Just remind me again - who is it that is "misleading" the people of Australia?
Scott Coghlan is the editor of Western Angler magazine and a columnist for the Sunday Times.
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