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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Oceangoing vacuum cleaner

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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.

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  1. The F. V. Margiris should not be brought to Australia when our government is proposing to spend $100million to prevent us from accessing our own seafood. If the marine parks and reserves go ahead we will have fishermen and vessels that will be out of work all over Australia who could utilize this fishery, thereby benefiting regional communities, businesses and families that would otherwise be hurting financially and socially. Australian fishing family businesses operate under strict gear and vessel limitations that seem to be ignored for this vessel. Unfortunately, it fits the AFMA preference for large vessels and company owners and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more of them to come.
    I do not agree with Serge regarding some of his comments about Australian waters bio-mass productivity and resilience. Some quotes from Dr. W. Starck on these matters:
    “The marine communities upon which fisheries are based are not fragile and delicate, but rather robust and flexible ones that readily undergo and recover from frequent natural perturbations.”
    “If the EEZ area and catch of Australia is compared with that of other nations in the region, it is apparent that the Australian fishing zone is the largest and the catch the smallest, with the differences being in orders of magnitude. Until a few years ago low productivity was not even mentioned.
    It became a convenient explanation only after I brought up in public debate that claims of widespread threats from overfishing were grossly inconsistent with a harvest rate that is only 3% of the global average and less than half of 1% that of Thailand, our biggest supplier of imports.
    Suddenly, an inexplicable black hole in oceanic productivity was proclaimed and the Commonwealth Minister announced that “…Australia is in the middle of, you might say, a fish desert.”
    Strangely, oceanographic science seems never before to have noted this remarkable phenomenon until it was needed to explain dubious claims of overfishing despite only tiny harvest rates.
    I then pointed out that global marine primary productivity measurements from satellite monitoring showed no unusually low productivity around Australia.
    The first response to this was a claim that the most productive fisheries are on the continental shelves and we had only a small shelf area. This really wasn’t very well considered.
    Australia has the second largest shelf area of any nation.
    The shelf area nonsense was quickly shelved and the claim then became that the productivity figures were only averages and a large area of exceptionally high productivity in the north meant that most of our waters were very low.
    This ignored the fact that productivity everywhere varies widely with time and place, and ours is not in any way unusual in this respect. It also raised a further question regarding the absence of major fisheries associated with the area of highest productivity.
    If, indeed, our waters were so poor it would be obvious to any fisherman with experience elsewhere and would be reflected in a very low catch per unit of effort. To the contrary, above average abundance is clearly apparent.
    To believe the management codswallop one must accept that, despite being almost non-existent compared to anywhere else, our fish somehow conspire to be caught at rates higher than where they are 30 or even 200 times more abundant.” http://www.goldendolphin.com

  2. Time for all humans to stop eating fish and to adopt the most sustainable diet of all – a plant-based diet. We are eating the planet to death. Why aren’t the Greens promoting this?

    Without a healthy ocean full of fish we won’t have enough oxygen to breathe since 70-80% atmospheric oxygen comes from the ocean. See more on the critical importance of the ocean at http://www.fisherycrisis.com


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