Fishers to avoid new 100ha exclusion zone around Catalina

BOATIES and fishers will have to avoid a new 100ha "protection zone" set up to help preserve the Second World War Catalina seaplane wreck off the coast of Bowen.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt this week registered new regulations to create the new "maritime cultural heritage protection" zone.

It will be one of two new zones created inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to protect Catalina wrecks; the second is off the Cairns coast in far north Queensland.

The move also follows investigations into suspected illegal fishing at the Cairns wreck site, with recent surveys of the area by the marine park authority revealing "substantial damage to the wreck from anchoring, fishing and trawling".

"The authority has experienced difficulties in obtaining appropriate evidence to prosecute suspected illegal fishers at the site of the wreck because fishers commonly stow fishing equipment when they see a government compliance vessel approaching and claim to only be anchored at the site," regulatory documents read.

Fishers and boaties will not be able to drop anchor, fish or stop in the zones under the new regulations, which were active as of Thursday this week.

But heritage researchers and other will be able to get special permits to access to area to photograph the wrecks or help preserve them.

Regulatory documents lodged in Canberra this week showed the new protection zones were created to "protect the human remains and archeological fabric of the two wrecks".

An explanatory memorandum for the new regulations said it had followed talks with the seafood industry, divers, trawlers, recreational fishers, the local RSL and a Second World War historian.

Those caught breaching the new protection rules could face fines of up to $850,000, depending on the severity of the breach.