The Eurobodalla-based Nature Coast Marine Group (NCMG) was the driving force behind a 'Paddle Out' at Narooma's Bar Beach on Saturday.
The 'Paddle Out' was part of its campaign to "Save Batemans Marine Sanctuaries" after the government announced an amnesty on fishing in six sanctuary zones within the Batemans Marine Park in December 2019.
Hundreds of people abided by COVID-19 restrictions and registered before gathering on the beach to listen to key speakers before heading out on Wagonga Inlet to form a big circle.
Organisers of the paddle out said the huge turnout of local people showing their support of the sanctuary zones in the marine park was amazing.
Aunty Sue Haycox gave the Welcome to Country before environmentalist and MC Laura Wells introduced various speakers.
"Hundreds of local people have come to the Paddle Out to show their support of our marine sanctuaries and to show their discontent of the December rollbacks that saw six marine sanctuaries opened up without public consultation," South Coast conservationist and businesswoman Fiona McCuaig said.
"A thriving Batemans Marine Park is crucial to this region's economic survival with business owners reliant on tourists coming to visit the marine park and spending their money in the area.
"Most fishermen are supportive of marine sanctuaries as they allow fish to grow large in size which then spawn tens of thousands of eggs and larvae which flow inside and outside of the marine sanctuary and that directly benefits fishermen.
"I'm a fisherwoman, I love to fish and I want my children to be able to fish too," she said.
Walbunja man Wally Stewart said his community was not happy with the removal of sanctuary protections.
"As native title claimants over these waters, the government has a responsibility to consult with us but they made this decision without telling us and without any recognition of the status of our Native Title claim that gives us a right to have a say in the management of the marine park.
"They should have never rolled that sanctuary back without consultation," he said.
NCMG spokesman Bill Barker said the turnout showed that whenever the broad spectrum of Eurobodalla people are given a chance to speak out, they are "overwhelmingly in favour of strong protection for the marine life of our area".
"Pretty well everyone agrees that our lifestyle, our economy and the wellbeing of future generations depends on a healthy environment, both marine and terrestrial.
"It would be good if the government listened to this message and tried to facilitate a cooperative community-oriented approach," he said.
Ms McCuaig said the campaign "urgently" calls on Bega MP Andrew Constance "to reinstate our marine sanctuaries before the Christmas period which could see considerable damage to our sanctuaries with the expected large influx of visitors".
NCMG president Jane Elek said it was heartening to see a great South Coast atmosphere prevailing at the event - happy, positive, good natured, and with a family and community orientation.
"I would like to thank Narooma Marine Rescue for ensuring the safety of the event and all the volunteer helpers from NCMG and other community groups who made this such a success," she said.
However, not everybody who gathered at Bar Beach on Saturday morning were there to support the removal of the amnesty on fishing in Batemans Marine Park sanctuary zones.
Representatives of fishers, the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Narooma Port Committee, who were largely instrumental in lobbying the government for the amnesty, gathered at the northern end of Bar Beach coincidently at the same time of the NCMG paddle out.
"Unfortunately the conservation groups focus on banning fishing and do not pay any attention to other threats such as pollution," Narooma Port Committee chairman Philip Creagh said.
"Pollution in all its forms should be addressed before fishing is demonised," he said.