A FEDERAL government decision yesterday to halt a super trawler from working in Australian waters until more research is conducted into side-effects has been widely welcomed in south-west Victoria.
The 142-metre Dutch-owned FV Abel Tasman (formerly FV Margiris), which has docked at Port Lincoln, was scheduled to harvest bait fish for market in a joint venture with a Tasmanian company following clearance from federal authorities.
However, fishing groups and environmentalists protested for months, fearing the vessel would kill other marine species including seals and dolphins.
Recreational fishers in the south-west were especially worried the operation would harm prized southern bluefin tuna stocks.
Environment Minister Tony Burke introduced legislation to extend legal powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act so he can stop the project until a proposed expert panel assesses environmental effects. The bill is likely to gain bipartisan support in Parliament.
Labor’s member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman, Liberal member for Wannon Dan Tehan and state Liberal member for South West Coast Denis Napthine said there had been widespread concerns in their electorates.
Mr Cheeseman said there had never been a fishing vessel of this capacity in Australia before and the law needed to be updated to deal with it.
“There is the potential for harmful by-catch of dolphins, seals, seabirds and threatened or protected species,” he said. “Until this expert panel has reported to Parliament on its assessment the declared fishing activity will be prohibited.”
Mr Tehan said the move to amend legislation came after the government had initially given approval based on scientific advice.
“It shows the government’s incompetence and has caused mass confusion and put doubts on the integrity of the science,” he said.
“My worry now is that the Greens will move to put pressure on the government to limit family-based fishing operations and put in more marine park restrictions.
“They’ve opened a can of worms.”
Dr Napthine, like many others, said he was worried the super trawler would snare other species.
“Having smaller vessels to catch target species is a better way to manage fisheries,” he said.
Warrnambool-based offshore recreational fisherman Lucas Wilson said it was pleasing to see fishing industry concerns had been heeded.
“We were concerned that the southern bluefin tuna stocks which were recovering after nearly being wiped out would be hit again,” he said.
“This super trawler would take out nine times the volume of bait fish previously harvested.”
National lobby group, Stop the Trawler Alliance, which represents environment and fishing groups predicted there would eventually be a permanent ban on super trawlers.