The magnitude of the Parlevliet & Van der Plas FV Margiris Super Trawler operation has sparked fears it will decimate fish stocks. Greens Member Paul O’Halloran MP said that Greenpeace released information suggesting that the 142-metre 10,000-tonne FV Margiris due in Tasmania next week to trawl 18,000 tonnes of redbait and jack mackerel would not be profitable without European Union fuel subsidies.
According to Greenpeace, Dutch company Parlevliet & Van der Plas, FV Margiris received $46m since 1994 and another $33.5m indirectly since 2006. O’Halloran said that the Marigris should not be allowed here in the first place.
Federal Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Senator Joe Ludwig said that applications are considered on merits in accordance with the requirements of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and says that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority [AFMA] has not received any application. Senator Ludwig is reminding Tasmania’s politicians that despite fishing licensing being a federal matter, access and control to state ports are not commonwealth responsibilities. Ludwig said that it is local port authorities that have powers to prevent entry of ships into their ports at their discretion and if the Tasmanian Government wishes to address port access issues they should direct them to the appropriate authority. Tasmanian Minister David O'Byrne says that the Margiris is a foreign-flagged vessel and ultimately a Federal Government responsibility.
Federal Minister Joe Ludwig said he was aware that a commonwealth fishing concession holder indicated an interest in operating the Margiris in the commonwealth small pelagic fishery [SPF] and started the process with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to have Margiris flagged as an Australian vessel. Senator Ludwig said the catch for the SPF was set at less than 10 per cent of the estimated spawning biomass. The upper house is debating a motion from Tasmanian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson to disallow the SPF total allowable catch quota.
Responsibility for the FV Margiris rests with Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig but Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says he could override decisions if they pose risks to marine life and scientific advice points to a major environmental impact. The Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies' Professor Keith Sainsbury says that the trawler is less likely to deplete fish stocks close to coastlines.
Minister Burke said that after meeting the ship's operators, Seafish Tasmania, he was still ‘some distance’ from having enough information to make a call on whether his powers under the Environment Act would come into play.
Seafish Tasmania Director Gerry Geen said 12 months of research using underwater video cameras resulted in an exclusion device that would safely guide marine mammals to an exit from the net. Geen said critics should realise the export of small pelagic fish not wanted by Australian consumers to Africa would help feed populations in the developing world. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority [AFMA] process is under scrutiny from the Commonwealth Ombudsman following a complaint by Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Wilkie claimed the decision may be unlawful because the company director Gerry Geen sits on an AFMA committee that recommends the quota. Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman Alison Larkins said the investigation would be conducted in private saying ‘I would caution that a decision to investigate a complaint does not mean that an agency has acted inappropriately’.
Geen has said Seafish followed AFMA rules and Geen did not participate in the quota. Geen said that ‘it was always intended that we fish widely and sustainably throughout the fishery, which extends from Western Australia to New South Wales’. Geen said he remained open to discussions with them on his proposal.
In the Tasmanian lower house, the Greens secured support from Labor and the Liberals in opposing the Margiris operating in Tasmania’s waters.
The Greens have taken the issue to federal and state parliaments, with Tasmanian spokesperson Paul O'Halloran describing the ‘move-on provision’ as ‘spin’. Seafish says its quota represents only five per cent of the fishery and the trawler will inject $10-15m into Tasmania's struggling economy. The motion said Ludwig failed to demonstrate the Margiris could catch its 18,000 tonne quota sustainably.
West Australian Greens appealed to the state's fisheries minister Norman Moore, who expressed concern in parliament. West Australian Greens leader Giz Watson said that fisheries minister Norman Moore should be making a strong protest to the Commonwealth authorities and appeal against the trawler getting an Australian fishing license.
Fisheries Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig told Parliament a Greens' motion attacking a super trawler's catch quota could harm Australia's fishing industry. Greens Leader Christine Milne says recreational fishers are not convinced that the trawler is sustainable.
Senator Ludwig reiterated that the quota for boats fishing for jack mackerel and redbait will be less than 10 per cent of the estimated fish stock. Greens MPasked David O'Byrne whether he could confirm there was a meeting last week between Seafish Tasmania, MAST and TasPorts. Morris also wanted to know whether it was true that the company initially plans to berth the FV Margiris at Bell Bay, rather than Devonport. Minister O'Byrne told Parliament he was unaware of the super trawler berthing arrangements saying that he could request the information from TasPorts and MAST.
Final government approvals are pending for the Margiris to operate in Australian waters. The Greens' motion was adjourned until the next sitting of Parliament in September.