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Australia will lead the world on ocean protection with plans to create a network of marine reserves that limits fishing, oil and gas exploration.

But commercial and recreational fishers predict coastal communities will be devastated by the loss of 36,000 jobs and more than $4 billion in lost revenue.

Environment Minister Tony Burke released the final plan for 44 marine parks, including the Coral Sea and the southwest coast of Western Australia, on Thursday.

The new reserves will cover 3.1 million square kilometres, or a third of Australian waters.

The reserves will limit fishing and some oil and gas exploration.

Mr Burke told reporters at the Sydney Aquarium the plan would "turn a corner" on ocean protection.

"This is the biggest step forward the globe has ever seen," he said.

"We have decided to become the world leader in ocean protection."

A 60-day consultation process will not be about shifting lines on maps but whether the proposal proceeds, Mr Burke said.

The "jewel in the crown" would be protection for the Coral Sea which would become the largest marine protected area in the world when combined with the Great Barrier Reef.

"Australia is a good manager of its fisheries but that doesn't mean we can't go a step further," he said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the great Australian tradition of "dropping a line" in the sea won't be threatened.

"People will still be able to go and take their young son fishing," she told ABC Radio, adding the plan would affect about one per cent of current commercial fishing activity.

But 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 told ABC Television.

"Tony Burke's just single-handedly lost the election for the Gillard government."

Commercial fishers will have access to a $100 million compensation package.

"We've got an adjustment policy where we will work case by case with the different companies involved," Mr Burke said.

But Sunfish Queensland chief executive Judy Lynne believes the ban on commercial use will result in more foreigners fishing illegally.

"This is about a green push ... it's ridiculous," she told ABC Radio.

Veteran Nationals senator Ron Boswell says the opposition will fight the plan at every step.

Mr Burke countered by saying: "He's opposed to any level of marine protection."

The Australian Greens said the government had caved in to the oil and gas industry by leaving off critically important areas near Ningaloo, Pilbara and the Kimberley in WA.

Environment groups generally have welcomed the plan.

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don Henry said the plan would make Australia a global leader in ocean protection.

But he warned the northwest region had been left vulnerable to the threats of oil and gas exploration.

It is expected that the final marine reserves will be declared before the end of 2012.

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