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Australia has had tens of thousands of years of fisheries exploitation. That history reveals a staggering natural bounty, which has been alarmingly fragile without proper management. The current debate over the federal government’s new draft marine park plans is the latest chapter of this story.

Early accounts described what we can only read today as some sort of fishing Eden. The sea floor off the west coast of Tasmania was carpeted red with crayfish. Extraordinary schools of Australian salmon swelled the beaches of southern Australia — from Albany right around to Port Macquarie. Mountains of mullet migrated annually up the east coast of the continent.

Colonial writers described huge hauls of fish, caught using nets they had brought over on the First Fleet. One catch in 1788 was so large, wrote David Collins, the colony’s newly minted Judge-Advocate, that it actually broke the net. Collins speculated that if the haul had been landed, the entire catch could “have served the settlement [of over 1000] for a day”.

 

 

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