You may have seen my post in June about the Supertrawler Problem. The world’s second largest fishing ship – a factory trawler named FV Margiris – with nets large enough to hold four jumbo jets, wants to fish in Australia. It wants to catch 18,000 tonnes of baitfish a year… and who knows how many tonnes of bycatch.
This ship, and the Pelagic Freezer Trawlers fleet to which it belongs, has a seriously bad reputation. They have been implemented in major overfishing controversies in Europe, the South Pacific and Africa, to the extent that the Senagalese government actually revoked their fishing license and banned them from their waters earlier this year.
The quota assigned to the Margiris is under investigation as outdated, questionable and influenced by a conflict of interest.
80,000 people have signed a petition against the Supertrawler coming. Numerous protests have taken place since the initial announcement of its coming.
Today the FV Margiris docked into Port Lincoln in South Australia ready to start the process of being allowed to fish in Australian waters. Public concern is beginning to make the politicians sit up and take notice, but will it be enough?
Sea of Controversy
The FV Margiris would be the largest ship ever to fish around Australia. She needs a lot of fish in order to be economically viable. (Fish which, by the way, will be frozen and sold back to the African nations whose waters have already been overfished by this and other ships in the pelagic freezer trawler fleet). It is this highly inflated quota – twice as large as any previous total for the whole fishery – and the mammoth capability for destruction that has got Australians seething.
Fishermen around Tasmania are concerned that the Margiris will wipe out local populations and threaten their livelihoods. Not only that, but the concentrated removal of baitfish from the ecosystem will have serious knock-on effects throughout the food chain. They are a critical food source for larger, more valuable commercial species, as well as threatened marine species such as dolphins and seals.
Did I mention bycatch? With its 600m, 9,500 tonne capacity net, the Margiris is a death trap for any number of protected and endangered species. Seabirds, seals, dolphins, turtles, sharks… All are at risk of death if they get in the way of this giant ‘vacuum cleaner’. There is also clear evidence that escape hatches set in the nets don’t work, because dolphins don’t like being forced into the small ends of the nets.
What About the Science?
The pro-supertrawler groups say that the science by which the baitfish quota was determined is sound, and that they don’t know what all the fuss is about. But opponents say the data and method used for the quota is outdated. The jack mackerel quota is based on egg surveys which are used to estimate the size of spawning stocks. It was doubled to 10,000 tonnes based on research conducted in 2002-04, and published last year. But chief executive of Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing, Mark Nikolai, said there was insufficient data on the species movements, stock numbers for local populations or the species’ ability to replenish its stocks when fished.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has also been accused of ‘Japanese scientific whaling’-style tactics in its research excuse for the quota increase, and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has launched an attack on the credibility of AFMA’s quota setting process itself, which the Commonwealth Ombudsman is investigating. Mr Wilkie says the quota “is not worth the paper it’s written on” because of the presence of SeaFish Tasmania’s director Gary Geen during quota-setting advisory meetings. AFMA admitted it does not follow the Fisheries Administration Act literally, whilst Mr Wilkie has also found that concerns from members of another AFMA committee key to the quota decision were not represented or recorded.
Protests and Politics
I personally took part in a rally in Fremantle last weekend against the Supertrawler. Three hundred people formed a human message in outrage at this icon of overfishing and destruction. Hundreds of people in boats protested in Tasmania’s Derwent River earlier this month. The message is getting louder.
Greenpeace was there to try to stop the Margiris from entering Port Lincoln today. The message is coming through clearly.
The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, is said to be seeking advice about whether he has the power to prevent or restrict the vessel under environmental law.
Labor Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, said today that she has very serious concerns about the impact of ships like the Margiris, and wants to introduce a private members bill aimed at stopping super trawlers from fishing in Australian waters. She says it is the last thing needed when the Federal Government has put in place a network of marine sanctuaries.
Meanwhile, Port Lincoln’s mayor Bruce Green is one of the only people who seem unconcerned. He has been backed up by David Ellis from the local tuna industry, who said, “This vessel is fishing on behalf of an Australian company – I believe it is welcome here.” It may be ‘welcome’ in Port Lincoln whilst the Margiris applies to change its flag to Australian in order to acquire a fishing licence, but it is probably the only port from WA to NSW where such a thing could be said.
The Federal government has not yet given final approval for the Margiris to fish in Australian waters, but the decision could be only days away.
Please take action. Sign the petition against the Supertrawler and show the government that we do not want these kinds of ships in Australia.
CCWA action page: http://ccwa.org.au/supertrawler
Greenpeace petition: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/action/index.php?cid=28
CommunityRun petition: http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-giant-fishing-trawler-in-tasmania/