Rec fishers pull pin on super trawler working group

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has failed to allay anglers’ fears over the arrival of the FV Margiris as the federal Government comes under increasing pressure to ban super trawlers from Australian waters.

According to a report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, angling groups led by the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) have pulled out of a working group set up by the Government to discuss concerns over the trawler’s industrial-scale fishing methods and proposed quota levels.

ARFF spokesman Mark Nikolai said yesterday that anglers decided to pull out of the working group after a review of the science behind the massive trawler’s quotas raised more questions than answers.

According to the Herald, the Dutch-owned Margiris is being brought to Australia to trawl offshore between NSW and Western Australia for 19,000 tonnes of small pelagics. The venture is underpinned by a jack mackerel quota that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) controversially doubled to 10,000 tonnes on the request of the trawler’s operators.

The Prime Minister weighed into the debate and defended the working group against the call from the independent MP Andrew Wilkie to delay approval for the trawler until the Commonwealth Ombudsman completes inquiries into the quota decision.

The ARFF decision to strongly oppose the arrival of the super trawler now leaves the PM exposed on one of the biggest environmental issues of recent times.

Nikolai said detailed discussions in the working group showed basic knowledge of the fishery was lacking.

”Recreational fishers call on [the Fisheries Minister, Joe] Ludwig to not allow industrial-scale fishing operations to occur in the small pelagic fishery and address the significant public concerns surrounding the risks of local area depletion on fish stocks,” he said.

At the National Recreational Fishing Conference held on the Gold Coast at the weekend, Senator Ludwig said he was ”a strong defender” of AFMA despite the growing controversy over the super trawler issue.

Also at the conference, angling leaders spoke of the political deal-making and scientific whitewashing that has marked this super trawler issue. In a paper presented to the conference RecFish founder Graham Pike said:

“For what reason should the federal government stop the Margiris? Simple, for the same reason the previous federal government stopped the entry of the foreign-owned super trawler, Veronica, eight years ago. That was after a national public campaign led by Recfish Australia made Australians aware that the foreign vessel would be attacking our small pelagic fish stocks before we really knew the size and biology of their populations.”

“It’s the same situation now. The decision to double the quota of small pelagic fishes to economically justify the entry of the Margiris was based on very limited, old and unreliable data, and a perverted process.”

“I know because I have been involved in the management of the Small Pelagic Fishery for 12 years and I represent Australian recreational fishers and the charter fishing industry on the Australian Fishery
Management Authority’s SPF Resource Assessment Group.”

Graham Pike’s paper can be read in full HERE.

In related news, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has taken AFMA to task about the quota approved for the FV Margiris.

The ABC news reported late last week that Minister Burke asked AFMA whether the size of the trawler was considered when the scientific work was done on quota allocation.

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