A FEDERAL Government proposal for a conservation zone in the Coral Sea has attracted criticism from scientists from across the world.
The reserve would take in much of the Queensland coastline, stretching from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait in the north, and to the edge of Australia's exclusive 320-kilometre economic zone.
Commercial fishing operators in the Bundaberg region have condemned the proposal claiming it could be the final straw after a spate of restrictions placed upon the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in recent years.
However more than 300 scientists have signed a statement warning the Federal Government the proposal has serious shortfalls and does not go far enough.
The director of the Australian Research Council's centre for coral reef studies, Professor Terry Hughes, said scientists had been unanimous in their disapproval of the proposal.
"It's one of the last few areas on this planet that is relatively intact," he said.
"In our view the entire Coral Sea should be made a
no-take zone so it can remain this way."
Prof Hughes said the southern inner-zone of the reserve would still be open to long-line fishing and that only two new reefs would have additional protection under the proposal.
Scientists are also concerned shallow coral reefs, cays and sublittoral reefs of the western Queensland plateau would be vulnerable.
Prof Hughes said that long-line fishing vessels threatened yellow-fin tuna, turtles, sharks and barracuda.
"This is an opportunity for the Australian government to protect one of the most pristine places known to man," he said.
"The area is one of a kind - everything else is already gone."
The Queensland Seafood Industry Association has labelled the scientists' claims as sensational and alarmist.
Ocean Pacific Seafoods director Peter Packman said commercial fishing operators were struggling to stay afloat under the weight of government regulations.
"It's becoming an absolute nightmare for us," he said.
"Every time they take away more territory from the fishing industry it becomes harder and harder to operate."
Mr Packman said areas outlined in the Federal Government proposal were not heavily used by the industry.
"To lock up a lightly fished area like this forever is absolutely ridiculous," he said.
"I believe it to be one of the most ridiculous proposals to ever be contemplated."
A round of public comment on the proposal closed last week.
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