[singlepic id=271 w=320 h=240 float=left]Far North Queensland Labor MPs have today called on the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to join them for an urgent round table discussion in Cairns to discuss the ongoing issues associated with dugong protection in Queensland.

The round table would involve local state and federal MPs, Traditional Owners and representatives from the fishing industry, in an effort to determine an agreed approach to the protection of the unique animal.

Member for Mulgrave, Curtis Pitt said a joint approach to the issue is needed to ensure the best outcome for the species, recognising that Commonwealth Native Title legislation overrides the State Nature Conservation Act.

“Dugongs are a very special part of Far North Queensland and it is essential that we ensure their protection of these majestic animals for future generations,” Mr Pitt said.

“We need to focus on where there is already consensus as a starting point – by and large we are seeking the same outcome. Bringing all the key stakeholders together is the best and most practical way forward.

“I’m also seeking improved research to establish baseline data for the dugong population, to ensure a sustainable future.

“We need to continue working cooperatively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as the fishing industry, to ensure the survival of the dugong as a species.”

Member for Cook, Jason O’Brien said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been taking dugong according to traditional customs for thousands of years.

“We understand Traditional Owners have a right to hunt dugong, where it is their native title right recognised under Commonwealth law,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We need to work with them to ensure this practice remains sustainable.

“As part of this roundtable, we would also be inviting representatives from the Cape York

Land Council, the North Qld Land Council, the Torres Strait Regional Authority and other Traditional Owners.”

Member for Barron River, Steve Wettenhall said the dugong is an iconic species in Far North Queensland.

“Dugongs, like Cassowaries, are one of those special animals found in Far North Queensland that help draw millions of people from around the world to the region.

“It is essential that we protect our unique marine wildlife, both for environmental sustainability and for the ongoing prosperity of Far North Queensland’s nature based tourism industry.”

Member for Cairns, Desley Boyle said the roundtable would bring together traditional owners who are committed to the sustainable protection of the dugong and its cultural significance.

“There are really good traditional owners who only want to take dugong on rare occasions for ceremonial and traditional purposes,” Ms Boyle said.

“They are dismayed that some people are supposedly taking dugong under the guise of being a traditional owner.

“These are some of the issues that we need to discuss with the Federal Minister, to find a way forward.”

Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones met with the four members in Brisbane yesterday and said she will also be investigating funding options for other potential solutions, such as the design and use of break-away panels in commercial fishing nets to allow large animals such as dugong to swim through unharmed.

“The Queensland Government has already taken significant action to protect dugongs in their natural habitat right along the Queensland Coastline,” Ms Jones said.

The Bligh Government has introduced: Reef Protection Legislation to protect water quality in dugong habitat, Marine Park Zoning which includes go-slow zones to prevent boat strike, Dugong Protection Zones under fisheries legislation, and Requirements for net fishermen to attend their nets at all times

Ms Jones said the government is working in collaboration with the Queensland Seafood Industry Association and the Department of Employment and Economic Development and Industry on possible initiatives including, changing fishing practices, increased compliance action, community education, and improved vessel identification systems to assist in the investigation process.

“We continue to look at new ways to improve the protection of these incredible animals.

“We’re also continuing to work with Traditional Owners and Great Barrier Marine Park Authority to develop land and marine use agreements that recognise the need for sustainable take and protection of dugongs.

“The roundtable with the Federal Minister would provide an ideal opportunity for us to look at new ways to build on this work that is already underway.”

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