Tag Archives: supertrawler

Community Cabinet and my first political experience

Dear readers, I apologise for the absence of my usual Wednesday post last night, but I was in a meeting with the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.  The Prime Minister was in town (Kwinana) with 15 of her ministers for a Community Cabinet meeting and I got the chance to talk directly to Minister Burke for ten whole minutes before it all started.  And yes, I was nervous!  Hence why I had to come home and have a day to assess what happened before I shared the fun with you.

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12). Hopefully better photos to come...

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12) Hopefully better photos to come…

The 35th Community Cabinet was held in Gilmore College hall with an audience of around 300 locals (and some not-quite-so-local).  It was an opportunity for us to raise any issues directly with the government and officials themselves.  But before I go into that, I’ll tell you about the Ministerial meeting.

After pre-registering, I was the first of five people to meet with Minister Burke before the Community Cabinet meeting.  Others would be talking about environmental issues including urban bushland preservation, the South-west water catchment area, and destructive logging practices in WA.  I talked about marine sanctuaries.

Australia is about to become a world leader in marine conservation.  Minister Burke announced in June that the government is to create a network of 44 marine parks and reserves around Australia in Commonwealth waters.  Since then, a second consultation period has been in place over six weeks, asking members of the public and stakeholders to comment on whether they approve of this plan. This submission period will close on Monday 10th September: next week.

I asked for a meeting so that I could talk to the Minister about this plan.  I’m passionate about marine conservation, and wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the Minister for getting this milestone into place.  Well, almost there.  We still have the final hurdles to go, and recently opposition has been growing loudly from recreational fishers misinformed about how the sanctuaries will affect them, and even worse, the Coalition.

Click here to see my recent blog for Conservation Council of WA about why the Coalition’s claims are a load of swash.  I asked Tony Burke how confident he was that the marine parks plan would go through, and he answered “Very.”  That’s reassuring.  He said that the Coalition’s Private Members Bill against the plan would never succeed.  However he did say that the move has flagged that the Liberals may be targeting marine parks in the next election…  And that isn’t reassuring at all.  We have to make sure these new parks come into place within the next 6-8 months, so that they are law and cannot be touched by any ridiculous, politically-minded move that fails to keep Australia’s best interests in mind.

Minister Burke says he’s doing the best he can to defend marine parks, but how much of that is just political smooth-talking I don’t know.  I certainly feel that he could do more to defend and promote the amazing scientific research that supports and underpins the case for marine sanctuaries, research that has taken over a decade to collate.  Holding up a pile of documents to a camera and saying ‘here, look how much work has been done’ obviously hasn’t convinced enough people.  The science is great and deserves better promotion.  Otherwise we may risk a situation like climate change where the voice of a loud minority caused people to doubt the solid scientific evidence… and continues to lead us into debate.

This was my first political pseudo-interview.  I admit it wasn’t amazing.  In fact, I had a feeling the whole way through that he knew exactly how many times I’d done an interview before (none) and was taking full advantage of that fact to smoothly turn me away from some questions (like asking him about funding for baseline studies as soon as the marine parks are implemented) and turning the question away from him (like saying that he needs a wave of community support – from me and others – right now because he’s doing the best he can).  But my friends from Save Our Marine Life – who have dealt with Minister Burke a lot over the past few years – said that honestly, it just sounded like I met Tony Burke.  So I came away feeling that maybe I’d done alright.

Mostly I just smiled a lot and said how awesome these marine parks are going to be, and keep it up (don’t fail us now).  I said that he’s got community support – and that is true.  Not long ago a poll showed that 70% of Australians are happy with marine parks, that in fact it’s the most popular decision the current government has made.

We just need those people to come out now and support marine parks so that they come into place and Australia can truly become a world leader in marine conservation.

So if you haven’t already entered your submission, please go to the Save Our Marine Life website and sign the petition that says YES to marine sanctuaries.

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

By the way, I mentioned that there was also a Community Cabinet.  As a British girl living in Australia, I think I must be certifiably Aussie now, because I’ve been to a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.  Do you agree?

Anyway, the main focus of the night was education.  Members of the public were able to ask questions for about an hour, directed either to the PM or other Ministers who were present. Education reforms and unemployment were the main topics raised, with others including the super trawler, asylum seekers, aged care, the aid budget, uranium mining in WA, how the carbon tax works, and why the government puts ‘mentally fragile’ asylum seekers into detention centres overseas (the answer to which was that it is another deterrent).

Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parks, was also present.  Ms Parks is planning to put forward a private member’s bill stopping supertrawlers from fishing in Australian waters.  When asked why Environment Minister Tony Burke hadn’t stopped the FV Margiris from coming, he said: “I did the absolute limit I was advised I could do under existing law . . . should the law be changed?” – referring to Ms Parks’ upcoming Bill.  I for one will be absolutely behind her on that one, and I’m sure that the 80,000+ Australians who have already protested against the supertrawler will be as well.  For more on that issue, see my earlier blog (and recent update).

The most popular question was the last one too: what could the federal government do about a planned marina at a local public reserve site (Point Peron) bequeathed by the Commonwealth and being sold off by the state Liberal government?  Whilst Minister Burke had only just returned from visiting the site that day, he fended off the question on the basis of needing further advice.  For more info on that campaign, visit Hands Off Point Peron.


And that was my first political experience.  Do you have any tips for next time for me?

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Stop the Super Trawler Before It’s Too Late

Supertrawler FV Margiris

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.

And yet…

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.

Dead dolphins falling out of super trawler net. Photo taken by researchers on board Dutch super trawlers while conducting peer-reviewed studies and given to Greenpeace

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

Human Message in Fremantle. Photo: Jeneta Enevoldson, The Wilderness SocietyI 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/

Read more: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/news/oceans/top-10-facts-about-super-trawlers/

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The Supertrawler Problem

Australia is about to have one of the world’s largest fishing vessels enter its waters.  At 142m long, a capacity of 9,500 tonnes and a 600m long net, the FV Margiris is one of only a handful of supertrawlers in the world.  And it sails on an ocean of controversy.

The Dutch-owned ship has been approved for re-flagging and moving to Tasmania, in a joint venture with SeaFish.  It’s scheduled to be roaming from Queensland to the Tasman Sea and across to Western Australia by Spring, in pursuit of 17,500 tonnes a year of small baitfish.

The target fish – jack mackerel, blue mackerel and redbait – are prime food for endangered albatross and critically endangered southern bluefin tuna.  They are a vital part of the Southern Ocean food chain.  There are also concerns about the sustainability of fish stocks, accidental bycatch of seabirds and mammals, and the availability of current scientific evidence to support catch quota.

But instead of being afraid of the damage it could cause, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has doubled the quota of mackerel to accommodate the vessel.

The move has caused a furore from environmental groups, as well as recreational and commercial fishers around the country.

Greenpeace on their Margiris Action near Mauritania

History of destruction

The Margiris is part of the European Association of Pelagic Freezer Trawlers (PFA): the association responsible for “some of the worst fishing excesses on the planet”, according to Greenpeace.  The PFA grew from Dutch companies fishing North Sea herring – a stock which collapsed in the 1970s, and its fishing banned. Technological advances, bigger ships, and the introduction of freezers allowed a move to West African waters in 1995, where the PFA stands accused of overfishing and leaving locals catchless.  As recently as 2005, the PFA further expanded to fish off the coast of Chile, where wholesale oceanic plunder ensued, causing the reduction of jack mackerel stocks by 90%.  In March, Greenpeace activists painted the word ‘Plunder’ on the side of the Margiris and other factory trawlers of the PFA in protest as they fished off Mauritania.

Ironically, the majority of the Margiris’ catch from Australia will be destined for West Africa.

Sea of opposition

Desperate for new fishing grounds after plunging fish stock after fish stock to its knees, the Margiris is now destined for Australia.  But many oppose the move.

“There has never been a trawler of this scale in Australian waters to my understanding before and that is a serious concern that we just don’t know what effect it will have on the food chain,” Greens MP Kim Booth said.

Tasmanian Conservation Trust spokesman Jon Bryan said there was “no strategy in place to ensure that local stocks are not overfished”.

“To accommodate the vessel, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has doubled the quota for small pelagics and watered down its harvest strategy so that there is no longer a requirement for the regular science-based stock assessments needed to ensure sustainable fishing,” Mr Bryan said.

Braddon Greens MP Paul O’Halloran said the vessel would plunder local fish stocks and have an unacceptable level of by-catch.

“It is a floating factory ship which stands accused of moving from fish stock to the next, collapsing them and then moving on, like a voracious predator, without a care about its impact on people, communities and fish stocks,” Mr O’Halloran said.  “Local fishing industry, recreational fisherman, environmentalists and the general public understandably want the Margiris out of Tasmanian ports and out of Australian waters.”

The fishermen are worried too.  Chief executive of the Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing (TARFish) Mark Nikolai said the group’s main concern was about local area depletion of mackerel stocks, by allowing the vessel to sit in one spot to attain its quota, rather than being required to disperse its fishing efforts.  He said concerns put to the AFMA had not been satisfactorily answered.  Tasmanian Seafood Industries Council chief executive Neil Stump said that some commercial fishers had expressed deep concern, while others were satisfied that the degree of supervision would mean that the trawler would not be as destructive in Australia as elsewhere.

So what will happen?

Coalition fisheries spokesman Richard Colbeck said the super trawler catch will be heavily scrutinised, and the opposition spokesman Rene Hidding called on the state government to ensure best practice was used.

SeaFish director Gary Geen said he was comfortable with the scientific data, and that the quota was less than 5% of the stock size.  He said he was not concerned “whatsoever” by media reports of the vessel’s record overseas, because the vessel’s operation in Australia would be strictly managed and quota-controlled.

By the way, Mr. Geen is also a member of the AFMA advisory committee.

Meanwhile, Tasmanian ministers and the Maritime Union of Australia are talking up the potential employment opportunity of the Margiris – of around 40 people.  The local economy of Devonport is also set for a boost.

However, Mr. O’Halloran said any new jobs created aboard the vessel could simply replace jobs with local commercial operators.

A coalition of global, national and state environment groups has written to Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig, calling for the Margiris to be banned unless it can guarantee adequate assessment of fish stocks; an observer aboard the vessel at all times to ensure it is not exceeding quota or excess bycatch; and a process to prevent localised overfishing.  The ship has not yet applied for its licence to operate in Australian waters, because it is not yet considered an Australian vessel.

Read more

Sydney Morning Herald

Daily Telegraph

The Advocate

The Examiner


Update: do more

After receiving the below request from a reader, I updated this post to show some things that you can do in response to this issue:

  • You can sign this online petition, with nearly 8,000 signatures already.
  • If you want to distribute a petition to local stores or others without internet, you can print one off here.
  • Also, the Greens in Tasmania have announced a public meeting they are organising in Devonport on July 8th if anyone is in the area. Info is available via Facebook
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