Divisive oyster reefs plan splits council ranks
A new stakeholder reference group will run its eye over the $2.4 million Noosa River oyster ecosystem restoration project and finalise the Noosa River Plan.
This publicly divisive oyster reef propagation plan received 4-3 councillor support at the Noosa Council’s ordinary meeting.
The reef restoration project will be carried out over three years in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Deputy Mayor Frank Wilkie, Cr Joe Jurisevic, Cr Brian Stockwell and Cr Tom Wegener voted in favour of supporting the adoption of the management plan.
Mayor Clare Stewart, Cr Amelia Lorentson and Cr Karen Finzel voted against.
This was after a proposed amendment by Cr Lorentson to have a representative of Noosa’s commercial fishing families appointed to the project’s technical advisory group to “add independent, valuable, local input into the project” was lost 4-3.
The TAG group is designed to be a scientific advisory panel and opposing councillors believed the commercial families input, suggested by Cr Lorentson to possibly include someone from the “Massoud, Burton, Cleary, Clarks and Harpers”, was better suited to the reference group.
Cr Stewart however successfully moved to have an independent scientific expert appointed by council, to peer-review the monitoring and evaluation plan for the oyster restoration project, the methods used, and the data to be collected.
The mayor said she respected the fact the previous council entered into the project agreement.
“We have an existing a partnership with TNC, we have a signed contract,” Cr Stewart said.
“I think it imperative that for this project to provide as much input, consultation, feedback and advice from as many people as we can, engaging an independent scientific expert can only help this project going forward and provide increased comfort among the community,” she said.
Cr Stewart said this would be a “fair and reasonable ask” that would deliver a review of this project.
Deputy Mayor Wilkie supported the mayor’s move.
“This sort of oversight can only give further assurance to the credibility and professionalism to the organisation that we are partnering with,” Cr Wilkie said.
He understood the TNC was “comfortable with this form of oversight, this peer review”.
“This gives further assurance, especially to the new councillors … I think that’s appropriate and fully support that,” Cr Wilkie said.
Cr Stockwell believed this was a good initiative and was “a valuable additional element, which I hope will give a range of people some satisfaction that all is well”.
After the meeting, Cr Wilkie said the new stakeholder reference group would be established in the coming months to provide input into this and other projects which tackle a broad range of river management issues.
Philanthropic organisation The Thomas Foundation has provided $1.2 million to the project to match council’s $1.2 million commitment.
TNC has run environmental projects in more than 70 countries, has more than 400 scientists on staff, and is one of the world’s most successful practical conservation organisations.
“It’s important to note that this project is just one initiative to enhance our river system,” Cr Wilkie said.
“We know that oysters play an important role in filtering nutrients from the water, and healthy oyster reefs help to generate strong fish stocks. These are both important ingredients in a healthy waterway.
“We’re fortunate to have received significant funding from The Thomas Foundation toward the project. These tweaks we’ve made to the management plan will help ensure we get best bang-for-buck for our ratepayers,” he said.
Council chief executive Brett de Chastel has been authorised to determine the terms of reference to establish the Noosa River Stakeholder Reference Group together with the appropriate role for councillor representation on that group.