THE war of words over the Cape Byron Marine Park has stepped up a level following the release of the results of a Southern Cross University (SCU) survey.
The study by SCU researchers, which found a high level of support for the Cape Byron Marine Park, has been dismissed as unrepresentative by recreational anglers.
Ken Thurlow, the chairman of the Nortehrn Rivers Fisheries Conference, said the 200 people interviewed for the survey was an 'incredibly small sample'.
Mr Thurlow said he was at The Pass when the survey was being conducted and six of those people surveyed were tourists staying at a Byron Bay backpackers hostel.
He said the issue was not whether people favoured a marine park - that was a fait accompli - the issue was where the sanctuary zones should be.
Of the more than 3000 submissions made on the marine park options and issues paper, 2200 were from recreational anglers, he said.
However, the university's survey of users of the Cape Byron Marine Park has been welcomed by Friends of Cape Byron Marine Park.
Spokesperson for Friends of Cape Byron Marine Park, Dailan Pugh, said it was particularly significant that the survey found 83 per cent of fishers supported the park and 72 per cent support sanctuary zones.
"Unfortunately a minority of extremist recreational fishers have been running a very vocal scare campaign in an attempt to garner support for their opposition to both the marine park and sanctuary zones," he said.
"This scare campaign has been orchestrated by a small group of fishers who have exclusive rights to launch through The Pass.
"They want to maintain their 'right' to fish in the habitat of the critically endangered grey nurse shark at Julian Rocks despite the fact that recreational fishing is one of the major threats to the survival of this species.
"To achieve their objectives they have resorted to misinformation about the impact of the proposed sanctuary zones on other fishers.
"The reality is that the vast majority of fishers will still be able to fish where they have always fished and that, with the creation of sanctuary zones to protect breeding stock, their fishing will actually improve.
"Now that these extremists have been exposed it may be possible to work constructively on rectifying any problems with the proposed sanctuary zones so that they can maximise access to the majority of fishers while still creating the refuge areas needed to enhance fish stocks.
"Experience is that whatever the favoured fishing spots of the past were, in the future they will be next to the sanctuary zones."
The research project by SCU researchers Dr Claudia Catterall and Associate Professor Vicki Harriott involved 200 face-to-face interviews with users of the marine park between January and June this year at a range of sites from Brunswick Heads to Lennox Head.
Dr Catterall said that al- most one third of the 200 people interviewed fished within the park.
"The level of support for the park was surprisingly high, given the controversy in newspaper coverage over the past year," she said.
"Of all the people surveyed, 93 per cent supported the marine park to some extent and 84 per cent supported the establishment of sanctuary zones.
"Even the fishers in the survey were quite supportive, with 83 per cent supporting the park and 72 per cent supporting sanctuary zones.
"The study indicates that most locals can appreciate the benefits of preserving a percentage of local fish habitats to allow fish populations to recover from harvesting."
Meanwhile, special projects officer of the Australian Marine Conservation Society Ingrid Neilson said the recreational fishing lobby was letting the public down.
She said this vocal group in the Byron region appeared confused about the benefits of protecting Cape Byron's outstanding marine environment.
"The Cape Byron Marine Park will help protect the natural assets of the region and give marine life a helping hand," Ms Neilson said.
"Claims by some that the park will be bad for tourism is like saying the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is bad for tourism. It just doesn't make sense."
"The recreation fishing lobby's view is extreme to say the least, when less than three per cent of the entire NSW coastline provides marine life any refuge from fishing."
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