Kimberley locals have been offered a look at revised plans for the controversial Buccaneer Archipelago marine park after initial plans ignited tensions over proposed no-go zones and restricted fishing.

Key points:

  • The WA government has offered fishers and Derby locals a look at a revised version of its proposal
  • The park was co-designed with traditional owners and has created tensions over planned restrictions
  • Fishers say while they’re happy with the outcome, issues with the process still need to be addressed

A 660,000-hectare overarching marine park is planned for the Buccaneer Archipelago and Dampier Peninsula which takes in some of the most stunning stretches of Western Australia’s northern coast and went out for public comment last year.

Under the initial draft plan, recreational fishing would be banned or restricted in 40 per cent of the park which caused tension among Kimberley locals who felt they were being shut out of waterways they had fished since childhood.

The draft attracted 17,000 submissions, and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions went back to the drawing board to address their concerns — 240 of which were received from the Kimberley region.

The department has now taken its revised draft to stakeholders around the Kimberley, and in a presentation to the Derby West Kimberley Shire last week, council DBCA Kimberley district manager Craig Olejnik unveiled a new map proposing the new planned fishing zones.

A map of the Buccaneer Archipelago showing new proposed zoning, split between green, blue and purple colouring

A revised plan of the draft was put before the Shire of Derby West Kimberley last week for consideration. The zones are not finalised. (Supplied)

It marked some “key concessions” to recreational fishers including access to Dam Creek, the Graveyard, Kimbolton Creek and parts of the inland sea, Strickland Bay and the reef in front of the Cone Bay barramundi farm.

Mr Olejnik said the changes did their best to balance submissions highlighting the overall support for joint management, and the need to protect the Buccaneer Archipelago, by revisiting restrictions.

He said it was important to deal with the enduring perception in the community that the initial draft marine park plan had been “divisive”.

“I think you can see in the final zoning maps they’ve gone a fair way to incorporate a number of those concerns that were raised.

“I’m pretty confident we’re closer to landing at a fair outcome.”

Flaws in process ‘must be addressed’

But for some fishers in the Kimberley the scars of the process are slow to heal.

Fisher Laurie Donnelly said while it was good to see the department closing in on a more-balanced outcome, the process had inadvertently pit neighbour against neighbour.

Sunset over a bay and islands.

Cascade Bay in the west Kimberley’s Buccaneer Archipelago is a popular destination for recreational fishers.(ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

“There’s been a lot of anguish,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said his criticism for the plan was not of the wishes of traditional owners and their hopes to protect important cultural areas, but with the government involvement in drafting the plan.

“They didn’t put [the first draft] to the public. They were using Recfishwest and fishing clubs as a form of advertising to the public, but here in Derby and Broome about 60 to 80 per cent of the boats of Broome don’t belong to a club or might not be on a mailing form,” he said.

A large group of mostly men, grouped together following a consultation.

Fishing clubs and Recfishwest were vocal about their need to amend the first draft of the plan.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Mary Island Fishing Club vice president Wayne Foley agreed, and said the process had exposed flaws in the co-design model that needed to be addressed before it was rolled out statewide.

He said in a community as small as Derby it would be wise to let local leaders take charge in the future without government involvement.

“Why can’t we have a meeting between traditional owners and stakeholders without DBCA?,” Mr Foley said.

In response to the enduring criticism, Mr Olejnik said the department would aim to conduct a review of the process in order to fine tune it in the future.

“There’s some real positives that came out of the co-design process that I think are being recognised through further review, and whether there is room for improvement that’s something that we’ll definitely look at,” he said.

Love of country shines through

Mr Foley said while the initial process definitely had its flaws, people in the community were now coming together with a better understanding of each other’s love of the Buccaneer Archipelago country.

“I think traditional owners are starting to realise how important these grounds are for us, and Mary Island Fishing Club is starting to realise how important traditional owners land is,” he said.

It is expected the plan will be finalised and released in early 2022.

New draft marine park map for Kimberley coast marks ‘key concessions’ for fishers
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