Interview on ABC Radio National - Geelong Star


23 MARCH, 2015

Geelong Star


KELLY: Environmentalists say that they will fight plans to allow a new super trawler to fish in waters off Australia that's due to occur from next month. The Dutch Trawler, the Dirk Dirk, has been renamed Geelong Star after the Victorian port which will become its home. The ship is owned by the company Seafish Tasmania and its international partners. That's the same company that brought the 142 metre Margiris to Australia in 2012 you might remember. That ship was banned from trawling by the then Labor Environment Minister Tony Burke. Now the 95 metre Geelong Star will fish for mackerel and redbait in ocean waters off the Australian coast, Mike Woods has more.

TURK: The Geelong Star will be operating from basically Western Australia, almost up as far as Perth, right round the bottom of Australia through the Great Australian Bight, round Victoria and Tasmania and New South Wales up to the Queensland border. It's a very, very large fishery.

WOODS: That's Grahame Turk, Chairman of the Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association, the industry body which represents companies like Seafish Tasmania. The 100,000 tonne Geelong Star is known as a factory trawler because it can process and freeze the catch quickly. It's been given a 16,500 tonne quota of small pelagic fish. Pelagic by the way simply means fish from the open ocean. Late last year the Abbott Government extended the ban introduced by the Labor Government in 2012 to all trawlers over 130 metres. Senator Richard Colbeck is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture.

COLBECK: We've been quite active in releasing new science to address concerns that were raised with Government with the previous debate around the super trawler, and the other thing is that with the previous vessel that was proposed to come in a couple of years ago they were saying that that was too big, it was 142 metres, the Government took action and prohibited vessels over 130 metres from fishing in Australian waters, we announced that before Christmas and now they are saying size doesn't matter, so I'm not surprised that their arguments are a bit vague because we have worked very hard to address the concerns of the community with respect to localised depletions, impacts on other marine mammals, dolphins, seals and those sorts of things and other major predatory species. We've released all that information publicly.

WOODS: But Tasmanian Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie says the research on small pelagic fish stocks has been patchy at best.

WILKIE: Some years ago now in the previous Parliament the then Labor Government decided there was a compelling case to place a ban on super trawlers for two years, so it was persuaded of the fact that there was significant gaps, or are significant gaps, in our knowledge of fish stocks and although some work has been done on understanding the fish stocks since then, it has tended to be patchy and it is not robust enough to say in confidence for a vessel of this size will not lead to localised fish stock depletion.

WOODS: Conservationists say the issue is not the Geelong Star's size it's the capacity that has them worried. They're concerned that some areas may be fished out, but supporters of the trawler say that's not backed by science which shows that stocks of fish like the jack and blue mackerel and redbait off Australia's coast are massive. Grahame Turk again.

TURK: You can't catch more than the quota that's attached to that ship or to any vessel, so the total allowable catch for the fishery is only 7.5 per cent of the total estimated biomass. That's a very low figure by most fisheries management standards and this vessel has a half of that again allocated to it, so in other words 92.5% of the fish stay in the water and this boat will be allowed to catch half of the rest.

WOODS: What about bycatch, is that a concern?

TURK: It was a concern, we don't believe it is a concern now, and in fact one of the regulations by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) will be that an observer is on board, one of their observers will be on board at all times to ensure that the bycatch elimination devices work. It's a very sophisticated boat and it's got some fairly sophisticated gear on board to avoid catching seals and dolphins and so on.

WOODS: Environmentalists and some recreational fishers have also raised concerns about what catching large quantities of mackerel and redbait may mean for other species like Bluefin tuna which feed on the smaller fish. Senator Richard Colbeck says negotiations with all interested parties will continue before the Geelong Star is given final authorisation to begin trawling.

COLBECK: We're trying to deal with all of the concerns that were raised during the last debate; we've limited the scale of the vessel; and it falls within all of the discussions that were held last time in relation to vessel size, in fact the Greens wanted all vessels over 130 metres and 2000 tonnes prohibited from Australian waters. This vessel is 95 metres and just over 1000 tonnes so it falls within all of the different parameters that were discussed at the last outing.

WOODS: So what are the markets for the massive catch harvested by the trawler. Much will be exported but Seafish Australia hopes that Australians will develop a taste for fish like mackerel. Grahame Turk, Chairman of the Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association.

TURK: They're extremely healthy fish to eat and they're quite nice if you've eaten blue mackerel but most people don't get the opportunity because they deteriorate quickly, they need to be frozen quickly after they're caught so there hasn't really been a harvest in Australia up until this boat so yeah there'll be a campaign and some of that product will be exported because there's certainly a demand for it in Africa and other places, but it is a good fish to eat and I'll certainly be eating some.

WOODS: Independent MP Andrew Wilkie says it doesn't matter where the catch goes it will still deplete Australian fish stocks.

WILKIE: We are at real risk of that localised fish stock depletion and the reason for that is a fleet of smaller vessels, they stay out for a shorter period of time and there's multiple nets and they're spread over a broad area. When you have a single vessel with a huge net it can scoop up a whole school of fish and that's why you get that risk of localised depletion.

KELLY: That's Andrew Wilkie Independent MP for the Tasmanian seat of Denison ending that report from Mike Woods.

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