1.Marine protected areas (MPAs), are being vigorously pursued globally but meeting significant resistance at a local level. Despite this, there is limited research into the factors that drive this resistance.
2.The Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGLMP) and Batemans Marine Park (BMP), both situated in New South Wales (NSW) Australia, were established in December 2005 and April 2006 respectively. Both generated significant controversy and hostility, particularly from the recreational fishing sector.
3.The controversy surrounding the declaration of these and other NSW marine parks continues and has been the subject of intense political interest and government enquiry.
4.Semi‐structured interviews were conducted with recreational, professional and indigenous fishers. They explored the social impacts of the declaration of PSGLMP and BMP and their link to marine park opposition. Opponents felt the marine parks had resulted in a variety of negative impacts ranging from a loss of enjoyment and convenience through to more serious impacts on wellbeing, livelihood and culture.
5.Examination of the reasons why interview subjects participated in fishing provided further insight into their perception of the marine park and the impacts resulting from the declaration.
6.Opposition to MPAs, however, cannot be explained by impact alone. All the marine park opponents interviewed represented themselves as ‘knowledge holders’ about their local marine area. This knowledge – predominately ‘fish’ knowledge – appears to have conflicted with a policy position which places biodiversity conservation as the primary objective of MPAs. This has led to a perception that the practical knowledge of users was not valued in the planning of each marine park.
7.Incorporation of the goals and objectives of local communities into the development of MPA proposals may provide communities with a greater sense of ownership. Considering motivation to fish may allow for the development of more holistic management responses to mitigate and compensate users for social impacts that may arise from any necessary trade‐offs between these often competing objectives.