CANBERRA - Australia's plan to set up the world's largest network of marine parks has been hailed as a major environmental step, but the fishing industry is reeling.
The country's marine reserves will cover 3.1 million square kilometres or a third of Australian waters, including the Coral Sea and the south-west coast of Western Australia.
They will limit fishing and some oil and gas exploration.
``This is the biggest step forward the globe has ever seen,'' Environment Minister Tony Burke said in Sydney, adding that Australia would be a world leader in ocean protection.
He will make a final decision on the plan following a 60-day consultation process, but warned that this would not involve shifting lines on maps.
Nationals leader Warren Truss said the plan to create 44 marine parks was aimed at giving Prime Minister Julia Gillard something to crow about at next week's United Nations environment summit in Brazil.
Mr Truss said the massive ``no-go zones'' would shut out commercial and recreational fishers.
``When 'lock it up' is the government's approach to vast areas of Australia's territorial waters, is it any wonder our supermarkets are overflowing with imported seafood?'' he said.
The government proposes a $100 million compensation package for commercial fishing operators, with the details yet to come and funding provided on a case-by-case basis.
Ms Gillard said the marine plan would affect only about 1 per cent of commercial fishing activity.
The Australian Marine Alliance, which represents commercial and recreational fishers, says 70 trawlers will go out of business.
``This is devastating and those that will suffer most will be coastal communities,'' chief executive Dean Logan said.