Peter Whish-Wilson pic by Thomas Moore
The Australian Greens have fresh concerns that Seafish Tasmania Pty Ltd is actively pursuing angles - including using large industrial factory vessels - to access their disputed Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) quota while environmental uncertainties are meant to be under expert review. Recent media reports indicate that the Labor Premier of Tasmania is backing the Seafish plan to bring an alternate factory freezer trawler to our Tasmanian and Australian waters.
Last week I sought legal advice on Minister Tony Burke’s super trawler ban in relation to the definition of a ‘specified vessel’ under the Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012. I was informed that it allows any industrial factory freezer trawler to apply to operate in the Australian SPF regardless of its capacity and impact on fisheries and ecosystems, provided it’s under 130m – only marginally shorter than the super trawler FV Abel Tasman, formerly the Margiris.
On Monday in the Senate [LINK VIDEO - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyJ4ZCzD5EE ] I then asked if this loophole was intentional, and if not, what measures Minister Burke was taking to rectify it. I also asked if the Minister, or his Department, had met with Seafish in regards to any proposed new factory freezer trawlers.
Yesterday I also wrote a letter to Minister Burke seeking clarification around this potential loophole and later spoke to him directly about my concerns, and to seek assurances that his Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012 will not allow another factory freezer trawler, with the same or similar capacity to the FV Abel Tasman to operate within the Australian SPF.
It is now my understanding that current Legislation was only for the super trawler Abel Tasman (or a vessel very similar to it) and any new super trawler – even one with greater factory and storage capacity - could make a new application to come and fish in Australian waters immediately, given it’s only marginally shorter in length. In order to stop any new factory freezer trawler, the Minister would have to make a new Declaration and this would need to be agreed to by the Minister for Fisheries, The Hon. Joe Ludwig.
Clearly if this was to occur, all those who spoke out against this type of fishing activity in Commonwealth waters, and all those who assumed super trawlers would be banned from Australian waters for the next 2 years, would be back to square one! Essentially, the same process that Australia has been through over the last five months would have to occur all over again.
This is no idle threat, we are confident following an ABC radio interview with Seafish Pty Ltd director Gerry Geen last week that moves are underway to bring a new large factory freezer trawler to our Commonwealth fisheries.
It is my belief considerable uncertainty now exists for recreational fishers, environment groups, and the community who fought so hard to stop super trawlers [ LINK RALLY VIDEO - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emUQHRk-iHc ] from operating in Australian waters, especially considering super trawler risks are yet to be evaluated by the expert panel.
The Greens want to see responsible, future-focused outcomes in our Australian fisheries for both industry and communities, and the ecological values that they depend on in the long-term. We will be holding both Minister Burke and Minster Ludwig to account on this issue every step of the way.
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Senate QwoN video: