A FEDERAL government move to halt a super trawler for two years almost sank within hours of hitting Parliament yesterday after a wave of protest from Opposition MPs alarmed it could trigger widespread closures of recreational fisheries.
Environment Minister Tony Burke was forced to modify the proposed legislative amendment or risk seeing it founder in a storm of controversy.
The government had responded to widespread protests about a proposed joint Dutch-Tasmanian venture using the 142-metre FV Abel Tasman to harvest thousands of tonnes of Australian bait fish for market.
It had earlier been given clearance by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which found no evidence of high risk to fish stocks or by-catch.
Cabinet on Tuesday announced it would strengthen legislation to stop the venture for two years while a new scientific assessment was completed.
Wannon MP Dan Tehan summarised the Opposition mood yesterday by describing the draft legislation as using a large sledgehammer to crack a nut.
“I would be betraying my local constituents and recreational fishers if I voted for it,” he said. “Everyone in the fisheries sector should be alarmed because this proposal as it stands would give the minister power to shut down a venture on not only for environmental reasons, but social and economic as well.
“I would only support the legislation if the social impact clause was removed, otherwise there would be a dangerous precedent.”
However, Labor member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman, who was first to speak in Parliament for the legislation, said the Liberals were out of touch.
“This ship has 600-metre nets, it can process 250 tonnes of fish a day and freeze up to 6000 tonnes of fish,” he said.
“This ship could decimate our local waters. We need to do our research first, not clean up the mess later.”
Mr Burke later said the legislation would be amended to exclude recreational fishing and he was confident it would pass the lower house.
Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Green was busy lobbying crossbench MPs and warned he could seek compensation for a multi-million-dollar failure of the super trawler venture.
Independent MP Craig Thomson will support the temporary ban if Labor changes a definition from “fishing activities” to “commercial fishing activities”, to address concerns it could inadvertently impact on recreational fishing.