Sunday, 8 December 2013

Australian Legislation Banning the Super Fishing Trawler

In Port Lincoln, South Australia, the second biggest trawler in the world sat uselessly before making its way to New Zealand. It was shackled by the Australian government which was willing to sink its own fisheries regulator in order to stop the super trawler exploiting the Australian waters.

But why on earth the Australian officials gave the super trawler every encouragement to leave Holland and sail riding to a political far storm? The officials say that they turned to the Dutch because they were experts in this kind of fishing and they had a number of vessels - all of which would have been suitable for fishing in Australia.

Before she was flagged the Abel Tasman, the super trawler was known as the FV Margiris. The ship is around 142 meters in length but it was her enormous industrial scale fish factory below deck that galvanized her critics. Below deck, the crew can process and store four and a half thousand tons of fish thus allowing the boat to stay out fishing weeks longer than any other Australian trawler.

Controversies follow super trawlers right across the globe and that was the reason why the Director of Seafish Australia asked his Dutch partners to come to Canberra and meet with regulators at the headquarters of AFMA (Australian Fisheries Management Authority).

Dirk Van Der Plas (co-owner of Margiris) had a meeting with the officials of AFMA (Australian Fisheries Management Authority) to get a reconfirmation that there will be no problems during operations. The officials of AFMA (Australian Fisheries Management Authority) said they will back him up completely. If they had not received this assurance the joint venture would not have gone ahead.

Even before making its way to Australia, the green peace activists had already painted "PLUNDER" on Margiris's hull - so the Dutch knew that they will be a target for environmentalists in Australia. Local fishers throughout the Africa were screaming to their officials to ban these trawlers off their shores because of their catastrophic impacts on their catches.

From the outset the most vocal opponents were Australia's most powerful recreational fishing lobby. There are 5 million recreational fishers in Australia (about a quarter of the total population of Australia). They were concerned that if the super trawlers wipe out the small pelagic fish (eg Jack mackerel and Redbait), other fin-fish, endangered birds, dolphins and seals (dependent upon these pelagic fish) will be adverse effected. But AFMA (Australian Fisheries Management Authority) was quite keen about the super trawlers.

Another sensitive political issue for the government Australia was Bycatch. Bycatch refers to the marine animals caught in the super trawlers' nets unintentionally as it pursuits its target catch. 90% of these bycatch is ecologically very important. Such bycatch die because of the water pressure, on-board damages or shock. Even if these bycatch are given routes to escape the nets, they still find it difficult to do so. And even if they do escape, the injuries during their struggle to break free from the net can be fatal.

But despite the highly publicized protest, no one in AFMA (Australian Fisheries Management Authority) attempted to stop Margiris from leaving Holland as planned. But when Margiris reached Port Lincoln it was met by green peace activists. Margiris' opponents both outside and inside the government were now heavily relying on Tony Burke to stop the super trawler. But Burke discovered that there was nothing in the existing environment laws of Australia that could stop the super trawler from going fishing.

Burke had secretly asked his department to prepare a new law to stop the super trawler at least for the short term. Cabinet backed Burke on a new law to stop the super trawler for at least two years before more scientific advice could be sought on its impact.

The Australian Government followed a third world decision making route - but the decision it made was right. It was seen as a victory for sustainable fishing not just in Australia but around the world.

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