The controversial FV Abel Tasman super trawler, poised to start fishing this month, will now be banned from fishing in Australian waters for up to two years while further scientific assessments of its environmental impact are carried out. The 465-foot vessel, operated by Seafish Tasmania, can pull enormous nets capable of encircling 13 jumbo jets. The trawler received international attention following intensive opposition from Greenpeace Australia, Environment Tasmania and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“These ships literally vacuum up entire schools of fish,” said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle. “Wherever these super trawlers go, they leave devastated fisheries in their wake.”
In their campaigns against its launch, ocean conservation groups noted that the FV Abel Tasman, formerly called the FV Margiris, was unanimously banned in Senegal after it destroyed the West African country’s marine ecosystem. The vessel was also responsible for the plundering of fish stocks in parts of Europe, greater Africa and the South Pacific. In the South Pacific, super trawlers, including the Margiris, diminished fish populations by 90%.
“Our oceans do not stand a chance against this kind of vessel—and neither do Australian fishermen,”said Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter. “Even research cited by the owners shows that despite new technology, many animals, including fur seals, will routinely be killed in its nets.”
The two species set to be targeted by the Abel Tasman in Australian waters—jack mackerel and redbait—are a key food source for larger fish and sea animals such as dolphins, sharks and bluefin tuna. Disrupting this cycle could mean the loss of these animals as well as the intended target species. Australian Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig said that a precautionary approach is now being taken over the super trawler amid ”uncertainties” about the impact it could have on protected species.
“If we get this wrong, there are risks to the environment, to commercial operators and to everyone who loves fishing and they are risks I am not prepared to take,” Burke said. “There has never been a fishing vessel of this capacity in Australia before and the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act] needs to be updated so that it can deal with it.”
Senator Ludwig, who previously backed the trawler, added: ”It’s clear to me that after 20 years of operating that legislation, there is now community expectation about how we should continue to have the world’s best-managed fisheries. Like Minister Burke, I also have a degree of uncertainty about how this vessel would operate within these waters and the likely impact particularly on the environment but also the social and economic considerations.”
Gerry Geen, director of Seafish Tasmania, told the National Times that the company would have to lay off 50 staff members.
“There are a lot of families going to be getting bad news today,” he said. Mr. Geen added the company might take legal action against the government, but they “haven’t got that far yet.”