Super Trawler Campaign

This campaign is to prevent the super trawler, the FV Abel Tasman (formally the Margiris) from fishing in Australian waters. "While the super trawler can’t currently fish in Australia, the change in the law doesn’t mean it won’t be able to fish in future. There has been no categorical ban on super trawlers."
Stop the super trawler Abel Tasman (formally the Margiris) from getting a license to fish in Australia


On the 11th September 2012, the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, announced his intentions to amend Australian environment legislation to prevent the super trawler, the FV Abel Tasman (formally the Margiris) from fishing in Australian waters. his announcement came not only as a result of deep community distrust of the industrial nature of this kind of fishing activity, opposition to the introduction of the vessel by the environment and recreational fishing groups, but also because of a recognition that the scientific basis for some of the management decisions was far from robust.

The background
The Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) is a Commonwealth managed fishery spanning an area from the NSW/QLD border all the way to the mid-west coast of Western Australia (see map). The main target species are blue and jack mackerel and redbait. Recently the quota, or the amount of fish the fishery is allowed to extract, had been substantially increased; for example, the eastern jack mackerel quota allocation was more than doubled from 4,600 tonnes in the 2011-12 fishing season to 10,100 tonnes in the 2012-13 season. It became apparent that the increase in quota opened the doors for a giant trawler to be brought into the fishery. The FV Margiris is 142m long, with net dimensions of around 300m long and an opening of 80 by 35m; the vessel is larger than any that has ever operated in the Australian fishing fleet. The Margiris also has on-board processing and freezing facilities, meaning it can operate for 24 hours a day and can process 240 tonnes of fish during that time. In previous years, the quota had been fished using smaller boats with a limited storage capacity, which meant the boats had to return to port to offload their catch before heading out fishing again. However, even with this limitation to fishing effort, some stocks of fish had already been depleted in the 1990’s1. The concern with a vessel with massive processing power was the impact of fishing activities on local stocks of fish.

The campaign
When it became apparent that the face of Australian fishing was about to change with the introduction of the world’s second largest fishing vessel, the environment and recreational fishing groups banded together to question the Australian Government on the science behind the quota increase, the possible impact on threatened species, such as Australian fur seals and dolphins, and whether there was any understanding or management to minimise the possibility of local depletion of fish stocks. For more information on the super trawler issues, download the fact sheet. Concerns were raised to both the Commonwealth Fisheries and Environment departments. After over 90,000 people signed a petition asking the Australian Government to stop the super trawler fishing in Australia, as well as over 2,000 emails from AMCS supporters to both Ministers, it was clear there were significant questions around uncertainty in the scientific basis for the quota increase, the way in with threatened species would be impacted, and a clear message from the public that they objected to the nature of industrial fishing vessels.

The result
It became obvious, however, that there was no legal way either Minister could stop the super trawler from fishing in Australia. Neither the Fisheries Management Act (1991) nor the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) gave either of them the necessary power. So Minister Burke took the step of amending current environmental legislation to put a stay of execution on the operation of the Abel Tasman. The amendment meant that a big pause on the whole operation would be pressed for a period of up to 24 months, to enable an expert panel to assess what science is lacking and what else needs to be done to ensure the fishery was being managed with sufficient caution so as not to harm the marine environment. Following some tense parliamentary debate in the lower house, eventually enough of the Independent MP’s supported the amendment and the bill passed the House of Representatives. From then, it was into the Senate, and finally, on the 19th September 2012, the amendment to the EPBC Act was passed! The Fisheries Minister, Joe Ludwig, also announced a ‘root and branch’ review of the way in which Australian fisheries are managed. The legislation that covers Australia’s fisheries is pretty old, having been passed in 1991 – things have moved on in the world since then, and the review process is a fantastic outcome. Read more about fisheries management here.

The future
While the super trawler can’t currently fish in Australia, the change in the law doesn’t mean it won’t be able to fish in future. There has been no categorical ban on super trawlers. Although the fisheries management review is crucial in ensuring Australian Commonwealth fisheries can work towards a more sustainable footing, the presence of a super trawler within the Australian fishing fleet in the future will do more to damage the public’s perception of fisheries management than any advances of fisheries legislation. The review process will result in a report to the Fisheries Minister in December 2012; from then on, it’s up to the Minister whether he accepts the recommendations of the report or not. In the meantime, the Environment Minister has committed to establishing an expert panel to assess the possible impacts of a super trawler on both threatened species and on targeted fish stocks. For the next two years at least, Australia’s oceans are protected from the scale of industrial fishing represented by the Abel Tasman.

1 Ward, T.M., Lyle, J., Keane, J.P., Begg, G.A., Hobsbawn. P., Ivey. A.R., Sakabe. R. Steer, M.A (2012). Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: Fishery Assessment Report 2011. Report to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2010/000270-3. SARDI Research Report Series No. 614. 98pp.

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Campaign Details

Group Leading this Campaign: Australian Marine Conservation Society

Campaign Target Type:

Who this Campaign is Targeting: Federal Government

Main Issue of the Campaign:

Campaign Ran From: 2011 to 2012

Campaign Outcome:

Outcome Evidence: Outcome not yet determined

Year Outcome Assessed:

Geographic Range of Activity:


Super Trawler Campaign