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Super trawler seeks overturn of fishing ban

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Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media

View more articles from Andrew Darby

The super trawler, the Abel Tasman, docked at Port Lincoln, South Australia last month.

The super trawler, the Abel Tasman, docked at Port Lincoln, South Australia last month. Photo: Janie Barrett JEM

THE backers of a super trawler are offering to reduce its take in a bid to convince the federal government to overturn a ban on it fishing in Australian waters.

Seafish Tasmania is attempting to counter alarm at its potential impact on fish stocks by offering new fishing rules to enable the 142-metre Dutch-owned Abel Tasman to operate.

"We want to go fishing," Seafish director Gerry Geen told Fairfax today.

After months of controversy about the largest fishing vessel ever slated for Australian waters, Environment Minister Tony Burke last month declared an interim ban on trawling in the small pelagic fishery by any vessel of Abel Tasman's size.

It had planned to trawl offshore between New South Wales and Western Australia for up to 18,000 tonnes of redbait and mackerel. It is now tied up at Port Lincoln in a "holding pattern", Mr Geen said.

Under the keystone Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Mr Burke is required to take comment from those affected before he makes a final declaration by November 20.

If made, a final declaration would prohibit the trawling for up to two years while an expert panel makes a scientific assessment of its effects, the Environment Department said.

Seafish in its submission to the department proposed the Abel Tasman could trawl under tighter restrictions, including: taking less than half of its 4500 tonne freezer capacity per trip; and moving on from any 100 square kilometre fishing area after catching 2000 tonnes in six weeks.

Mr Geen said that rather than issuing a final declaration against the ship, Mr Burke should allow an assessment of the environmental impact of the Abel Tasman while the vessel was operating.

"We have answered all of Minister Burke's concerns," he said.

Opponents, including 95,000 signatories to an online petition, would be outraged if it was allowed to go fishing, according to the Stop the Super Trawler Coalition's spokeswoman, Rebecca Hubbard.

"It is alarming people that this vessel is still sitting there," Ms Hubbard said.

She said the new provisions failed to take account of a basic lack of knowledge of fish stocks at stake.

"The move-on provisions are not based on a scientific understanding of the fishery," Ms Hubbard said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said one of the restrictions proposed by the owners of the trawler was that it move on from any 100 square metre, rather than square kilometre, fishing area after catching 2000 tonnes in six weeks.

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