Dutch supertrawler sails into storm of opposition

By Greg Ansley

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Some time near the end of the month the Dutch supertrawler FV Margiris will loom over the Tasmanian horizon, sailing into a storm of protest from a broad coalition of protesters demanding it turn back to Europe.

The Margiris has been granted an 18,000-tonne quota to fish for jack mackerel and red bait along a huge stretch of the Australian coastline, from New South Wales to Western Australia with 300m long nets and its own onboard processing factory.

Supporters claim the 9500-tonne trawler, one of the largest in the world, will abide by strict regulations and controls, ensure fish stocks are not damaged, and inject up to A$15 million ($19 million) a year into the Tasmanian economy.

But opponents, who jammed Hobart's Derwent River with a protest flotilla of 200 boats and presented a 35,000-signature petition to the Federal Government, do not believe the science is right, and say that stocks will be depleted, the marine food chain damaged, and dolphins and seals caught as bycatch.

They also point to New Zealand as an example of the problems of policing quota: the captain and four crew of Korean trawler Oyang 75 were convicted in absentia on a range of serious charges, including overfishing and the illegal dumping of more than 400 tonnes of low-value fish.

"New Zealand authorities thought they were very strict, and they ended up having a fleet of vessels chartered from Korea who busted the quota," Canadian fisheries expert Professor Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Research Centre, told ABC radio.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has also expressed concerns about the risk of "localised overfishing" despite faith in the ability of industry regulator, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), to ensure the science behind the granting of the Margiris quota is sound.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is at present considering a request for an investigation into the quota from Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie, one of the leaders of the campaign against the Margiris.

Acting Ombudsman Alison Larkins said she had asked AFMA for more information, but had not yet formally begun an investigation.

The Margiris will be working in Australia under a joint venture between its Dutch owners, Parlevliet and Van der plas, and local company Seafish Tasmania.

Able to process more than 250 tonnes of fish a day, the trawler vacuums its catch from the deck and automatically sorts, packs and freezes the fish. Its owners claim bycatch is minimal, especially among larger fish and mammals.

AFMA says the Margiris' quota was based on egg surveys showing that the catch was sustainable and that Seafish Tasmania will also be required to help fund further studies.

But a coalition of environment, recreational and commercial fishers and tourism groups does not believe the science or accept the case made by Seafish Tasmania.

Greenpeace prevented the Margiris from leaving its Dutch home port for six days, and the decision to allow it to operate in Australia has drawn international fire.

- NZ Herald

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