Friday, 8 July 2016

What will happen to the more than 40,000 year-old fishing rights if the NSW Clarence River Estuary is industrialised?

Dredging activities impact on the marine environment by smothering benthic biota and habitats and degrading water quality through elevated turbidites and bioavailability of pollutants. In addition, alterations in seabed morphology and bathymetry, and consequently to wave energy and water circulation, result in modified patterns of littoral drift (NSW Fisheries 1999, Watchorn 2000). The effects of this can include progressive accretion of sediments on some parts of the coast, and erosion in other areas (Winstanley 1995). Biota are obliterated during dredge removal and may take months or years to recover (Coleman et al. 1999). Species directly affected include invertebrates, fish and seagrass, although mangrove and saltmarsh communities are indirectly affected through altered water flows within estuaries (Edgar 2001). Dredging has been implicated in the disappearance of some invertebrates from port environments, such as a number of hydroid species that have not been recorded in Hobsons Bay, Victoria, since the advent of dredging programs (J.E. Watson, pers. comm., cited in Poore and Kudenov 1978b). Studies elsewhere have shown that the long-term influences of dredging on benthic infauna occur through permanent modification of the sedimentary environment (Jones and Candy 1981). [Commonwealth Dept. of Environment, National Oceans Office, Impact from the ocean/land interface, 2006]

Many North Coast Voices readers will be familiar with reports that deep and/or sustained dredging of tidal rivers and ocean harbours negatively impacts marine biodiversity resulting in species richness and abundance declining over time.

Environmental problems in the Port of Gladstone around 794kms to the north of the Port of Yamba have been in the news for years.

The Clarence River estuary is the largest combined river-ocean fishery in New South Wales and home to the biggest commercial fishing fleet in this state.

It is also a river which for a significant part of its length is held under Native Title by the Yaegl people (Yaegl People #1 & Yaegl People #2) of the Clarence Valley - from the waters approximately half-way between Ulmarra and Brushgrove right down to the eastern extremities of the northern and southern breakwater walls at the mouth of the river.

Here are the official maps outlining in green Native Title officially held to date:

On 2 June 2016 the CEO of Australian Infrastructure Developments was careful to note that this speculative company - lobbying for heavy industrialisation of the Clarence River estuary via a mega port covering 36 sq. kms or 27.2% of the entire estuary area - was yet to approach the Yaegl community or the trust created by traditional owners to manage these native titles.

Surely, with indigenous fishing rights recognised at law as existing on the Clarence River since time immemorial, any responsible company with a plan to extensively alter the riverine and marine environment should have asked the Yaegl people first before approaching the NSW Government with this:

Based on preliminary mapping published by Australian Infrastructure Developments Pty Ltd, yellow block overlays indicate bulk, liquid & container cargo terminals and shipping berths with grey overlays indicating proposed industrial areas

But then, Des Euen and his small band of backers have not yet publicly approached any of the Lower Clarence communities most affected by this prime example of environmental vandalism.

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