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Super trawler saga not over

THE Tasmanian company responsible for bringing a Dutch-owned super trawler to Australian waters to exploit baitfish stocks is pushing the federal Government to allow it to fish while scientific studies to assess its environmental impact are conducted.

This latest move by Seafish Tasmania has outraged anglers and conservationists who in September staged massive protests against the super trawler and forced Environment Minister Tony Burke to impose a two-year ban on its operations.

Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Geen has asked Burke to allow the controversial 142m super trawler to operate under “restrictions” for 12 months while research is carried out.

Geen claims the factory ship, which is capable of processing hundreds of tonnes of jack mackerel and other baitfish per day, is the only economically viable way to exploit the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Jack mackerel, redbait, blue (slimy) mackerel and other species to be targeted by the super trawler are the main food supply for iconic gamefish species such as southern bluefin tuna. These small fish are also an important food supply for seals, dolphins and other marine mammals.

Seafish Tasmania proposes to extract 18,000 tonnes of pelagic baitfish from around southern Australia and sell the processed fish to African nations.

A fleet of super trawlers, including the vessel Seafish Tasmania has brought to Australia, was responsible for wiping out the pelagic baitfish fishery in Africa.

Fisho today contacted Tony Burke’s office for comments on this latest development in the super trawler saga. The minister is currently in India but a spokesperson said a final decision on the super trawler’s fate would be made after a 60-day consultation period concludes on November 20.

Sources say the Government is unlikely to approve any moves to allow the super trawler to extract baitfish in Australian waters. However, the same sources warn that Seafish Tasmania is desperate to recoup the significant costs associated with bringing the super trawler to Australia and would more than likely take what ever action was necessary to get the ship’s nets in the water.

Anglers around the nation would again vehemently oppose any moves to allow the super trawler to operate in our waters. Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation director Allan Hansard told Fisho. “We stopped the super trawler last time and we’ll stop it again,” Hansard said. “There is no science to support the industrial extraction of baitfish stocks from our waters. Until conclusive science has been presented, we can’t allow these factory ships to operate here. It’s as simple as that.”

The ARFF has also released a media statement on the latest super trawler developments. Details HERE.

Sources have told Fisho that the latest move by Seafish Tasmania signals that the campaign to stop the super trawler is far from over.

“Gerry Geen is attempting to stop a two-year ban (which may or may not be declared by Minister Burke after the current 60-day ban expires) by saying he will operate the super trawler as a non-super trawler for the next 12 months so that it does not fall within the super trawler definition prescribed in the September amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act,” recreational fishing activist Graham Pike said.

“As someone who has been involved in the Small Pelagic Fishery for 12 years … I can state unequivocally that the fundamental issue is that there should be no large scale or industrial scale fishing of the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) until the federal Government spends the $2.5 million necessary to undertake scientifically sound, comprehensive Daily Egg Production surveys of all SPF target species, including jack mackerel, redbait, blue mackerel and sardines (pilchards) in all areas of the SPF so that we can prevent the overfishing of these vital forage fish in future.

“Overfishing of these species by the super trawler or any other large vessels or fleet of vessels, will likely cause serious problems for other fish, mammal and bird species in the small pelagic food chain and possibly even a collapse of the marine ecosystems around the southern half of Australia and Tasmania,” Pike said.

Conservationists also strongly oppose attempts by the super trawler to exploit the baitfish fishery.

“Seafish and (the Australian Fisheries Management Authority) will not provide information to the public on where or when the ship will be operating, or how much fish they are catching,” Tasmanian Conservation Trust spokesman Jon Bryan said. “The public will not be able to find out what is going on with this fishing operation. The company’s proposals are not based on science and will not reduce concerns about localised depletion or the threat to dolphins and other marine life.”

Stay tuned to www.fishingworld.com.au for more details as they come to hand.

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