Scientists to be called in as super trawler blocked for two years

Minister for the Environment Tony Burke and Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig will amend Australian law to prevent the super trawler from fishing in Australian waters for up to two years. AAP

Super trawler the Abel Tasman (formerly the Margiris) will be blocked from fishing in Australian waters for up to two years after the Federal Government announced plans to amend legislation to address concerns about by-catch.

Environment Minister Tony Burke today proposed an amendment to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EBPC) Act that will prevent the super trawler from fishing while further scientific assessments are undertaken.

“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,” Mr Burke said in a statement.

“There has never been a fishing vessel of this capacity in Australia before and the EPBC Act needs to be updated so that it can deal with it.”

A two-year limit will be placed on pausing the fishing activity in Australian waters while an expert scientific panel investigates, however in the case of the super trawler, Mr Burke said he expects the review will take the full two years.

The decision comes after ALP backbencher Melissa Parke gained support for a private member’s bill to immediately stop the super trawler operating in Australian waters.

“I think it’s a good idea we do more research on it,” said Susan Lawler, head of the Department of Environmental Management & Ecology at La Trobe University

Dr Lawler said while fisheries managers had done a fairly careful job of trying to guess what the yields of the fishery sought by the Abel Tasman was, a lot of guesswork was involved.

She added that in cases such as this, as was the case with the Murray Darling Basin water assessment, societal impacts also needed to be considered.

“We were going to let them take a lot of fish and the question was: Was that going to collapse the fisheries?”

Dr Lawler said while everyone agreed on the issue of not wanting to kill dolphins or seals, not everyone agreed on setting the quota.

“The fact it’s collapsed fisheries in New Zealand and Africa means we don’t want to be there, we want to be the smarter country.”

The Commonwealth should now take a good hard look at its other trawl fisheries to see if they should be subject to tougher regulation under the EPBC Act, said Colin Hunt, fisheries economics lecturer at the University of Queensland.

“It is not just super trawl fishing in the Commonwealth’s Small Pelagic Fishery that should be under question and subject to tightening of legislation to prevent unacceptable impacts on fish and protected species,” Dr Hunt said.