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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.

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