• The environment minister admits there are complications with a super-trawler eyeing Aussie waters.
A super-trawler set to operate in the Tasman Sea has caused controversy, with protests being held in different parts of Australia. We look at both sides of the debate surrounding super-trawler Margiris.
By
staff, agencies

30 Aug 2012 - 6:00 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

A super-trawler set to operate in the Tasman Sea has caused controversy, with protests being held in different parts of Australia. We look at both sides of the debate surrounding super-trawler Margiris.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Are you concerned about overfishing?

Seafish Tasmania intends to operate the 142-metre FV Margiris from next month to catch 18,000 tonnes of redbait and jack mackerel off Australia's east and west coasts.

That quota is half of the entire catch allowed in an area known as the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Dutch-owned Margirisis can process over 250 tonnes of fish a day. It will tow a 300-metre-long net through waters above the bottom of the ocean. The net has an opening 80 metres by 35 metres wide.

Most of the catch will be exported to West Africa for human consumption, Seafish says.

BIG FISH 'WILL GET CAUGHT ACCIDENTALLY'

Opponents of the trawler are concerned the catch will hurt local fisheries and deplete populations of dolphins and seals that could be snared in its massive nets.

"In the past 15 years, by-catch from 20 super trawlers fishing off West Africa has killed an estimated 1,500 critically endangered turtles, more than 18,000 giant rays, and more than 60,000 sharks," Greenpeace said on its website.

DEVICE 'PREVENTS LARGER ANIMALS BEING TRAPPED'

But Seafish says the Margiris is fitted with an excluder device, which forms a barrier that prevents large animals becoming trapped in the net and guides them to an escape hatch.

"The design of the excluder device is based on the results of a one year study by the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute using underwater video cameras to study animal behaviours inside the mid-water trawl net of Seafish Tasmania's previous mid-water trawler", Seafish said on its website.

FISH STOCKS 'OVER-EXPLOITED'

Since super trawlers, including the Margiris, started fishing off the West Coast of Africa, most commercial fish stocks have become 'fully exploited' or 'over-exploited,' Greenpeace says.

Greenpeace says large surface schools of the fish to be targeted by the Margiris - jack mackerel - were once common off Tasmania until they were overfished by trawlers more than 20 years ago.

"These surface schools soon disappeared and have not been seen since. The Margiris are now targeting the deeper schools of jack mackerel," it said.

And "if the small fish go, the big fish will go as well".

TRAWLER'S QUOTA 'SUSTAINABLE'

But those in favour of the Margiris say the trawler's quota is sustainable, with low by-catch rates and that the quota will be policed.

Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Green ABC Radio there is no evidence to support those claims.

"To my knowledge, the pelagic fisheries in these areas are quite robust. They've been fished by these kinds of vessels for the last 20 years," he said.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which regulates fishers in Australia, says the species of fish that will be targeted by the super-trawler are not overfished, except for redbaits, whose state is uncertain.

"Redbait west is assessed as 'uncertain' because of limited information available to assess its status. AFMA has implemented a conservative total allowable catch to reflect this uncertainty, " AMFA says on its website.

The 18,000-tonne quota was increased for this year, and was based on egg surveys that showed fish stocks could withstand a larger haul.

As a condition of operating the fishery, Seafish Tasmania will have to contribute to further egg surveys.

JOBS

Trawler operator Seafish Tasmania says it has already hired 40 staff in struggling northern Tasmania, the first step in injecting between $10 million and $15 million into the state's economy.

Senator Whish-Wilson said the creation of those jobs had to be weighed against the potential overall effect on the state.

"Jobs are important and I totally understand that, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions and balance those short-term employment gains," he said. "What are 40 short-term jobs versus long-term damage for example to our tourism industry?"

Greenpeace says the trawler will hurt local fishermen's jobs.

"These vessels use sophisticated technology and few crew members, while taking the majority of the fish," the organisation says on its website.

"In Europe, small-scale local fishermen have only been allocated 20 per cent of the fishing opportunities despite the fact that they represent 80 per cent of all fishermen in Europe."

PETITION

A petition signed by 35,000 people was delivered by Ms Hubbard, independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, Tasmanian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson and others to Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig on Wednesday.

And a motion will call for an examination of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFA) process to determine allowable catch limits (currently 18,000 tonnes).

AFMA says the fishery is split into two zones with separate catch limits, ensuring the quota cannot be taken from a single area.

The ombudsman has asked AFMA for more information and will decide later if an investigation is warranted.