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Super trawlers, the juggernauts of the oceans – environmental, economic and political devastation

Protesters were out on the weekend trying to stop the “super” trawler’s arrival. AAP

Protests on the weekend in Hobart against the Dutch owned super trawler, the FV Margiris, have led to the Australian environment minister, Tony Burke, expressing some concerns. Greenpeace’s petition against the super trawler is clearly having an impact.

The super trawlers are boats that should never have been built. They are anti-sustainable in design and devastating in their implementation. This particular boat recently caused the collapse of fish stocks in West Africa such that Senegal has recently banned all super trawlers. Ironically, the European owned boat processed these fish and sold them back to African markets, thereby raping not only the environment, but the economy, of their host nation.

But why such concern about a single boat? It would take 56 traditional African fishing boats a year to harvest the number of fish this boat can remove from the seas in a single day. A small crew of 40 people will get just one days wages for this fishing effort, as compared to the hundreds of local fishers who would have received wages for a whole year. In Australia, the quota of fish allocated to this super trawler is half of the entire allowable catch in the area. This is economically unsustainable.

In Africa, the Margiris displaced local fishing boats (like this one) and devastated fish stocks; will the Australian experience be different? Mishimoto/Flickr

The by-catch, or random killing of non-target species, is much higher in the automated fishing operation of a super trawler than in any other type of fishing. Dolphins and seals are killed directly, and the removal of vast quantities of red bait and mackerel impacts the ecosystems where these boats fish by destroying the food chain that supports tuna, sharks, seabirds and mammals. This is environmentally unsustainable.

Managing the legal and political impacts of these trawlers is proving too much for most nations. As Tony Burke pointed out, last year a Korean super trawler over-fished their quota in New Zealand, causing harm to Pacific mackerel stocks. The captain of the super trawler fled the country and was convicted in absentia, but this does not bring the fish back.

I would suggest that there are no political, economic or environmental solutions that could make super trawlers sustainable. They are literally a juggernaut: mercilessly destructive, and virtually unstoppable. Once built, the economy that released them on the world will demand that they achieve their dreadful potential.

All we can hope is that governments find the will to make it illegal to use these boats anywhere in the world.

Oh, and if you want to add your name to the petition, use this link.

Join the conversation

8 Comments sorted by

    1. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Doug Paice

      Thanks for this, and I have now fixed it.

  1. imogen birley

    logged in via Twitter

    Hi there

    your link to the petition is not working, and if people agree with your article I reckon they might want to use it!

    cheers, Imogen

  2. Martin Hamilton

    Environmental Scientist

    Thank You Susan for your article. It is good that you describe the link between the environmental and economic effects in Africa.

  3. Mister Anderson


    While I agree wholeheartedly with everything written in this article, I can't help but think it's a bit over emotive. I know this sounds cold, but when trying to convince the public about environmental issues, I think we conservationists need to be very wary of wearing our hearts on our sleeves lest we be stereotyped and as a result do more harm than good. At least as far as awareness raising goes.

    1. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Mister Anderson

      Trawling on this scale is of similar impact to really broad-scale deforestation.

      The treatment of the subject is in reasonable proportion to the problem.

    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Mister Anderson

      Gday Mr Anderson, following is the text of my email the the PM on this issue. In drafting it, I've tried to not let emotion get the better of me.

      "I understand that a Dutch-owned supertrawler, the FV Margiris, is permitted to operate in Australian waters (ref Andrew Darby's 12 June 2012 article for Fairfax, "Supertrawler brings global problem to Australian waters"), with the intention of harvesting jack mackerel in Australian waters to meet West African demand for fish.
      "As John Vidal reported…

      Read more
    3. Mister Anderson


      In reply to David Arthur

      Fantastic David! I'm very happy that other Australians are speaking out about this!

      Only a politician could disagree with such damning evidence ;)