Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Dutch-owned 'super' trawler "Geelong Star" has left Australian waters and will not be returning

Save Our Marine Life is celebrating the fact that the Dutch-owned factory trawler Geelong Star has left Australian waters and will not be returning.

The trawler has removed its Australian flag of convenience and been reflagged as Dutch – in the process its old name KW 172 Dirk Dirk has been re-instated.

ABC News reported on 24 November 2016 that:

The ship's departure came just before Labor and Greens members on a Senate committee recommended all mid-water trawlers be banned from fishing in Australian waters.

The committee had been investigating the environmental, social and economic impacts of super trawlers.

In 2012, ships known as super trawlers were prohibited from fishing in Australian waters, but the ban only applied to vessels over 130 metres, and not the Geelong Star, which is 95 metres.

Labor and Greens committee members also urged the Federal Government to appoint a National Recreational Fishing Council.

The report said public confidence in the management of Australia's fisheries needed to be enhanced, and it suggested the Australian Fisheries Management Authority publish information about fishing activity in the Small Pelagic Fishery regularly, such as bycatch quantities.

Liberal Senators Jonathon Duniam and David Bushby dissented from the recommendations, and said the Government was "committed to maintaining a balanced and science-based approach to all decisions regarding access to Commonwealth fisheries".

The Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications report into the Environmental, social and economic impacts of large-capacity fishing vessels commonly known as 'Supertrawlers' operating in Australia's marine jurisdiction was published in November 2016.

The Committee report stated:
1.46 The FV Geelong Star commenced fishing in the SPF on 2 April 2015.40 The Geelong Star is a 3181 tonne factory freezer vessel with a hold capacity of 1061 tonnes. At 95.18 metres, the Geelong Star is the longest fishing vessel in the AFZ.41
1.47 The operation of the Geelong Star in the SPF is a joint enterprise between Seafish Tasmania and Dutch company Parlevliet & Van der Plas BV and its Australian subsidiary, Seafish Tasmania Pelagic Pty Ltd.42 The fish caught by the Geelong Star is shipped to export markets, usually in West Africa.43
1.48 AFMA was notified that Seafish Tasmania had nominated the Geelong Star to fish its concessions in the SPF on 12 February 2015. Following registration of the Geelong Star as an Australian-flagged boat by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,44 AFMA confirmed that the vessel met its requirements. The Geelong Star commenced fishing in the SPF on 2 April 2015. As the Geelong Star is less than 130 metres in length, it is not affected by the ban introduced by the government in April 2015….
1.50 Since it commenced operating, AFMA has initiated various regulatory measures in response to mortalities of protected species caused by the operations of the Geelong Star. Various stakeholders are also concerned about the effect of the trawler's operations on other commercial fishing operations and recreational fishing activities. Both the fishing activities of the Geelong Star and the regulatory approach taken by AFMA have attracted controversy. 
1.51 Environmental non-government organisations expressed opposition to the activities of the Geelong Star and the approach taken to managing the SPF. Environment Tasmania and the Australian Marine Conservation Society both called on the government to 'enact a permanent ban on the operation of factory freezer trawlers in the Small Pelagic Fishery'.45 The Conservation Council SA provided a list of recommendations regarding potential localised depletion, adverse environmental effects, how to minimise impacts on protected species and the presence of AFMA observers on the vessel. The Conservation Council SA called for vessels such as the Geelong Star to be banned from the fishery 'until management strategies', including the recommendations outlined in its submission, 'are in place to effectively minimise impacts on protected species'.46
1.52 Recreational fishing interests are another key stakeholder group. Submitters in this group expressed concern about potential repercussions for the Australian recreational fishing sector from the operations of the Geelong Star. The Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) called for a moratorium on 'industry scale' fishing in areas of the SPF that are of concern to the recreational fishing sector. The ARFF argued that this moratorium should remain in place 'until a comprehensive assessment has been conducted to determine whether industrial scale fishing of the SPF is the highest and best use of the SPF, in our nation's interest and whether the small pelagic fishery should be commercially fished at all'.47
1.53 Seafish Tasmania, the operator of the Geelong Star, argued that the use of a factory freezer trawler such as the Geelong Star is the only way that operations in the SPF can be commercially viable. Seafish Tasmania also advised that, over 11 years, it has worked within the regulatory arrangements to assist in developing management plans and strategies 'that support the sustainable management of the SPF'.48 Seafish Tasmania added: 
The current management regime in the SPF, and in particular the conditions applied to the Geelong Star, are extremely strict. Clearly, they are designed  
to provide a high degree of public confidence that the operations of the vessel are being closely monitored and managed.49
1.54 Seafish Tasmania concluded: 
The company has made substantial investments in supporting scientific surveys and more recently in bringing freezer trawlers from Europe to catch our quota and to produce high quality fish for human consumption. It is time to let us get on with the job of catching our quota.50
1.55 Seafish Tasmania and the Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association (SPFIA) also argued that the science-based management of the fishery and the statutory fishing rights associated with the vessel should be respected. For example, the SPFIA submitted: 
The impact of the continued political interventions in the management of the Small Pelagic Fishery is being felt well beyond the confines of this Association. Although SPF quota holders are effectively the primary target of the political attacks, there is widespread erosion of industry confidence in the ability of AFMA to manage fisheries in an independent, non-political and science based manner. Consequently, industry confidence in the quality and security of their Statutory Fishing Rights is being steadily undermined. 
In these destabilising circumstances, it should not be surprising if industry were to take a shorter term view of their investments reflecting the increased political risk being faced. This is exactly the situation that Government sought to avoid by providing the fishing industry with well defined, long term secure fishing rights to inspire operators to take economically responsible decisions and to look after the marine resources on which their businesses depend.51
1.56 Other commercial fishing interests urged the committee and other interested stakeholders to separate concerns about factory freezer vessels operating in the SPF, where resource sharing issues involving recreational fishers are important, and the operation of factory freezer trawlers in other fisheries. Petuna Sealord Deepwater Fishing, which has operated a factory freezer vessel in the blue grenadier fishery since 1988, urged the committee to separate 'what we see are two dissimilar issues', namely concerns about 'super trawlers' in the SPF and the operation of factory freezer trawlers elsewhere. It explained: 
The current community concern which has led to this inquiry is not necessary driven by the size or freezing capacity of the vessel or the science of the fishery, as evidenced in the blue grenadier fishery, but centres around resource sharing and access to a fish species that recreational fishers consider is a significant driver in maintaining healthy populations of key recreational species.52……..
1.62 The Geelong Star is 95 metres long and, therefore, is not covered by the 130-metre definition of super trawler used for the ban. Nevertheless, the Geelong Star has commonly been referred to as a super trawler, including by the media and state governments.58 In addition, some of the concerns expressed by groups that opposed the Margiris have similarly been applied to the Geelong Star. Some submitters also argued that there is only a marginal difference in the quota allocated to the Abel Tasman, which was banned, and vessels such as the Geelong Star that are not.59 Other submitters, however, maintain that 'there is no correlation between vessel size and fishing power'.60
1.63 On this issue, Mr Allan Hansard, Managing Director, Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, commented: 'It is not necessarily the size of the boat; it is that intensity that we need to really focus on in this case'.61
1.64 From the perspective of the Stop the Trawler Alliance, which is an alliance of environment, fishing and tourism organisations established in 2012 in response to the Margiris, the principal issue is that a factory freezer vessel is operating in the SPF, not that a vessel of a certain size is operating.62......
The end result was this:
Recommendation 1 
6.22 The committee recommends that the Australian government ban all factory freezer mid-water trawlers from operating in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery.
The full report can be read here.

Because the recommendation is not yet reflected in legislation and because there is some uncertainty about the reasons the trawler vacated Australian waters as well as a fear it may eventually return, concerned people should write to Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce MP and Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston who have portfolio responsibility for fisheries management and to their federal MP calling on government to permanently ban all freezer mid-water trawlers from operating in Australian Small Pelagic Fisheries.

Save Our Marine Life has started a petition here. 

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