Wave of protests “sink” super trawlers off the coast of Tasmania

“People power” has sunk the planned operations of the super trawler Abel Tasman, formerly known as FV Margiris. Photo from The Mercury

What started as a ripple of concern over the pending arrival of a super trawler to be based in Devonport, Tasmania, soon became “a wave of outrage,” according to an article today in the Mercury.

Tasmanian fishermen started the murmur of discontent over the plans for one company and its massive ship to be able to take 18,000 tonnes of jack mackerel and redbait out of the fishery. Yesterday, the trawler was put on hold indefinitely.

Concerns about by-catch such as seals, dolphins and sea birds were raised, along with worries that local fish stocks would be depleted as the super trawler made its way through a 3.2 million sq km fishing zone.

There have been protests and flotillas, and more than 55,000 people signed a petition against the super trawler.

Opposition to the super trawler plans came from a very broad cross-section of the community. Recreational fishers, commercial fishers, conservationists, state and federal politicians and members of the public joined forces against the massive ship.

Global and national conservationist groups such as Greenpeace sat up and took notice.

Seafish Tasmania, which said it had been working with Australian fisheries authorities on its plan for seven years, will now have to wait at least two years to hit the water. The level of opposition to its plans appears to have taken the Triabunna-based company by surprise.

If the new assessment, which Environment Minister Tony Burke has directed a new expert panel to conduct, does not stack up, Seafish might be banned from ever fishing in Commonwealth waters.

Burke indicated it was the groundswell of opposition from many Labor MPs, recreational and commercial fishers and the wider public which allowed him to push the case to be given stronger powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Mr Burke last week imposed strict new conditions on the operation of the vessel, formerly known as the Margiris, but Seafish Tasmania indicated it could still fish under the new guidelines.

While the public debate about the super trawler began in earnest just two months ago, Seafish Tasmania has been working on its jack mackerel and redbait trawling project for seven years.

Another super trawler, the Veronica, was knocked back just over seven years ago, environmentalists said.

The group hailed it as a victory for the Australian community, which had united to reject the “monster ship”.

“This is what happens when we all stand together,” Greenpeace spokesman Ben Pearson said.

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