By Laura Daly and Dominic Elsome

Ban them, or they will come – that’s the warning from the Australian Marine Conservation Society in a new report on the threat posed by foreign-owned super-trawlers.

Marine experts are warning of the dangers of super-trawlers on the environment. Credit: Barry Lewis Creative Commons

The AMCS are calling for a complete ban of the vessels, and campaign manager Adele Pedder explained super trawlers aren’t your average fishing boats.

“So the vessels that we’re looking at are enormous, factory-scale fishing boats, that can fish continuously, they do trans-fishing at speed, so they can offload fish and on-load fuel and they will be fishing at a scale we’ve never seen before in Australia.”

Australia currently bans vessels more than 130 metres in length, but Ms Pedder said that doesn’t go far enough.

“What we’re calling for is a genuine ban on super trawlers. Banning all super trawlers from Australian vulnerable fisheries, and we’re also calling for a parliamentary inquiry to investigate moves afoot to open up our waters to foreign fishing fleets.”

She said Australia has already seen the impact of super-trawlers.

“We have had super trawlers come into Australia’s waters for short periods of time and when they were here we saw huge bycatch volumes – bycatch of dolphins and albatross and seals, and they even caught a whale shark. So this can have devastating effects on Australia’s marine wildlife as well as our fish stock.”

Marine advocates are concerned about the health of our marine ecosystems if super-trawlers return. Credit: Ryan McMinds Creative Commons

But the state’s peak fisheries body, Queensland Seafood Industry Association, wants to know what prompted the report’s release.

CEO Eric Perez said there’s been no push from the industry to see super trawlers return.

“Up until today, I’ve not heard anyone advocating for those larger vessels to come back into our waters, so I think we could be jumping at shadows here.”

He said the last time a super trawler was in Australian waters, the hysteria generated over the vessel drowned out meaningful debate.

“I don’t think a lot of time was given to any potential benefits of having a larger vessel in our waters that could, in theory, fish more efficiently for those deep sea stock,” he said.

“They’re questions that should be debated in open forum amongst people that know what the hell they’re talking about, but to openly ban things without having at least having the discussion about it doesn’t make sense.”

He said more regulation is not needed.

“It’s probably one of the most regulated fisheries on the planet, so you can’t just bring in a super trawler and decide you want to fish wherever you’d like. It doesn’t work like that.”

This is far from the first time concerns over super-trawlers have been raised.

Recreational fisherman Tyson Clements told the ABC in 2012, back when trawlers were coming into Australian waters, he was concerned about the future of the fishing industry in Australia.

“It’s so important to me that I can take my little boy out and catch a tuna, and a fish for that matter, for the rest of his life, and then he can pass that on to his children as it was passed down to me,” he said.

AMCS agreed Australia’s regulations are better than many countries around the world – but argued this makes our fish stocks a target for vessels who have already over-fished their own waters.

Over the last decade, various bans and regulations against the super-trawlers have been enforced by the Australian government but marine groups now hope stronger bans targeting all sized super-trawlers will be enforced.