Serge Killingbeck, South Ballina
I think a lot are missing the point on the FV Margiris (the ‘super trawler’). Everyone has got so obsessed about the size; people do have a tendency to do that. It’s not how big it is, it’s how they’re going to use it that matters. Australia’s marine environment and fisheries are species rich but biomass poor. That is we have lots of different sorts of pretty fish, just not many of each, so any fishing effort has to be of a size that enables highly selective fishing.
The FV Margiris is an oceangoing vacuum cleaner of a size and capacity that means it cannot be successfully selective, getting what you don’t want back into the water alive. By the time bycatch gets to the sorting tables, along with the couple of hundred tonnes of wanted fish, it’ll all be dead. The bycatch chutes will be a seabird fast-food cafe but not much else. This means any claim that the vessel will be following best practice, which could well be an accurate assessment, is an empty gesture.
We keep hearing about West Africa and the South Pacific, the most recent hunting grounds of these behemoths. The question is rarely asked why these fishmeal factories had to leave their home waters of the North Sea, previously some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. They left because they did the impossible: in a few short seasons they demolished the Atlantic Cod fishery, driving one of most fecund fish species living in one of the most fertile seas to the edge of extinction. A fishery that had survived centuries of intensive fishing.
Before these ‘super trawlers’ went in search of more far-flung waters, some North Atlantic nations, in a furtive attempt to protect what was left of their formerly strong fisheries, used their navies to stress the point to the skippers of these vessels they weren’t welcome and governments really didn’t care that the boats were operating within the letter of the law. We’re putting out the welcome mat to a boat others would chase away with guns.
The problem isn’t the size of the Margiris as such, it is the vessel’s inability to be selective or protective of endangered species. I have no problem with Seafish Tasmania exploiting a quota, provided that quota does meet with all scientific assessments for sustainability and ecological impact assessment. But they should be doing it using vessels more suited to Australia’s diverse but low-productivity marine environment, vessels small enough to be selective with the ability to return bycatch to the water, alive. If the North Atlantic Cod fishery couldn’t do it, it is difficult to see how our extremely fragile and precarious marine ecosystems can sustain these oceangoing vacuum cleaners.