Super trawler arrives to plunder Australian waters

THE controversial super trawler FV Margiris docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia this morning. Fisho’s SA Correspondent Jamie Crawford used his phone to snap this shot of the massive trawler. The ship is on its way to Tasmania’s Devonport from where it is set to target 18,000 tonnes of small pelagics such as jack mackerel from Australian waters between NSW and WA.

The arrival of the super trawler, which is capable of catching and processing hundreds of tonnes of fish every day, comes as federal Environment Minister Tony Burke prepares to ban Australian anglers and their families from fishing in huge areas of ocean off Queensland and Western Australia.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports that while some commercial fishers say the super trawler will boost the industry ,anglers and other conservationists fear the operation will decimate baitfish species, and have long-term effects on related fisheries such as that being created by the resurgence of southern bluefin tuna.

The chief executive of Greenpeace, David Ritter, said giant trawlers had a terrible track record for pillaging fish stocks in other parts of the world. “The jack mackerel stocks in the Pacific, which they said was impossible to collapse, fell apart under pressure,” he told the Herald.

At the centre of the fracas is the trawler’s quota, set by Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), which was doubled to 10,000 tonnes this year. The commonwealth Ombudsman last week launched an inquiry into the authority’s quota-setting process.

Yesterday, the Herald revealed that Gerry Geen, the Tasmanian businessman backing the super trawler, had been present at AFMA’s early advisory meetings. The paper reported that these meetings were tasked with setting the jack mackerel quota. Geen then joined other members of the group to support the proposal, the Herald reported.

The quota is based on egg surveys, which are used to estimate the size of spawning stocks, carried out by the scientists at two fisheries research institutes.

AFMA’s website says the jack mackerel quota was doubled, based on 2002-04 research which found the species spawned greater numbers than previously thought.

Mark Nikolai, the CEO of the Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing, said there was insufficient data on the jack mackerel’s movements, stock numbers for local populations or the species ability to replenish its stocks when fished.

Minister Burke is currently seeking advice about whether he has the power to prevent or restrict the vessel under environmental law. To fish in Commonwealth waters, the trawler must be re-registered as Australian before it can begin netting fish.

The Gillard Government is being heavily criticised by angling groups for banning recreational fishermen and their families from fishing in the new federal marine parks while allowing the super trawler to remove and process huge amounts of fish from Tasmanian, NSW, Victorian and Western Australian waters.

The Australian Recreational Fishing Federation, the peak body representing Australia’s 5 million anglers, said it would be “hypocritical in the extreme” if the Government allowed industrial fishing operations while banning “mums, dads and kids from wetting a line”.

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