Across the world, a sanctuary for fish and marine life is just that. But not in NSW any more.
Only 80 out of 2140 kilometres of NSW coastal waters are set aside as sanctuaries. Irrespective, since March the Premier has allowed fishing from the shore back into them.
If the imbalance between what we take and what we conserve isn't already clear, consider this: 93 per cent of NSW waters are open to fishing and more than 80 per cent of the state's six marine parks are open to fishing.
This may seem harmless to many who find throwing a line in the water a relaxing pastime, however the impact of hundreds of thousands doing the same thing is anything but.
In NSW, 60 per cent of fishing happens from the shore. Recreational fishers catch almost 30 per cent, or 5740 tonnes, of the total commercial catch in NSW of more than 19,000 tonnes.
Fishing is not the only threat to the marine environment, but the pressure it places on populations of fish and other marine life is increasing as technology improves and we become more efficient at catching it.
It may appear that the O'Farrell government's decision is a political gift to anglers, but it is actually working against their interests.
Research evidence from the CSIRO and some of the country's other leading marine scientists has shown for a number of years now that setting aside areas for fish and marine life to recover and rebuild complements rather than competes with sustainable fisheries management.
Much larger and longer-lived fish are more often found in sanctuaries rather than outside them. This is important for reproduction, as older females produce far more eggs than younger ones. There is also new evidence that most of the fish caught in or around marine parks are born within sanctuaries.
When the O'Farrell government was elected in 2011, one of its first orders of business was to review the state's marine parks. Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson claimed changes to the Jervis Bay and Solitary Islands marine parks, in the Illawarra and mid-north coast regions, made by the former Labor government were not science-based and were therefore politically motivated.
A panel of scientists was appointed by Ms Hodgkinson, which included two eminent researchers who had also been part of a review of the state's marine parks in 2009.
The 2009 review was legally required under legislation governing the state's marine parks. Ms Hodgkinson's 2011 review was not.
The 2009 review found that new evidence had become available to improve the zoning involved in marine parks – the areas where boating, fishing and some other activities can occur and the other areas that are set aside to allow fish stocks and marine life to rebuild.
As a result of this new evidence, the zonings of two of the state's most well-known marine parks, Jervis Bay and Solitary Islands, were adjusted and sanctuary areas strengthened.
The final report of Ms Hodgkinson's 2011 review made numerous recommendations about the need for further research on threats to the marine environment, but concluded that “the current system of marine parks as established in NSW be maintained and mechanisms be found for enhancing the protection of biodiversity in the identified gaps, namely within the Hawkesbury and Twofold Shelf marine bioregions.”
Despite consistent recommendations from leading science researchers across two statewide reviews in less than five years that more needs to be done to safeguard sensitive areas of the marine environment, the O'Farrell government chose instead to place a moratorium on creating new marine parks, and exposed critical sanctuary areas to exploitation.
Further evidence of how the government's decisions are harming the interests of fishers, but also local communities, is documented in the 2011 review report.
The results of a survey of fishers in the Solitary Islands Marine Park and at Jervis Bay Marine Park in 2008 and 2009 were highlighted. In both objective surveys of local residents, the overwhelming majority of recreational fishers supported their marine park sanctuary zones.
The surveys found that 88 per cent of local residents and 80 per cent of local anglers supported the Solitary Islands marine park, while 76 per cent of fishers supported the sanctuary zones in the Jervis Bay Marine Park.
This is far from a surprising or isolated response from anglers. Two of Australia's best-known marine parks are also among the best fishing spots – at Ningaloo in Western Australia, and on the Great Barrier Reef.
These two marine parks include some of the highest levels of protection for fish and marine life in the country, but still they are regularly promoted to fishing tourists in national and international fishing magazines, websites and TV shows.
Fishing in sanctuary areas is like allowing hunting in national parks. It works against everything we know to be logical and sensible about conservation of our unique animals on land and at sea.
So far, however, logic and sense have been very much missing from the O'Farrell government's approach to marine conservation. And the people who will be the first to feel the devastating impacts of its decisions will be fishers themselves.