Concerns about environmental damage ... the Dutch-owned super trawler Margiris could fish in Tasmanian waters if it is given the green light. Photo: Pierre Gleizes/Greenpeace
THE controversial super trawler Margiris could be fishing in Australian waters within days after being given the green light by the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, although it will face strict conditions to protect ocean life.
The 142-metre Dutch-owned trawler, which arrived in Australia last week and was greeted by protests by environmental activists, faces only routine hurdles before it can begin fishing for redbait and jack mackerel in waters off Tasmania.
Gerry Geen, the director of Seafish Tasmania, the company that will operate the trawler, welcomed the decision and said the Margiris would start fishing ''hopefully within a week or two''.
Mr Burke intervened nearly three weeks ago after he became concerned the trawler, the largest ever to operate in Australian waters, could cause environmental damage either by accidentally trapping dolphins and other protected sea life or by dramatically depleting fish stocks.
''The conditions I have developed will require the super trawler to adopt world's best practice methods to avoid listed species, particularly seals, dolphins and sea birds being killed or injured during its trawling operations,'' Mr Burke said yesterday. ''I want to ensure that the environmental impact is no more than if the same quota was being fished by a smaller vessel.''
Seafish Tasmania has been given a licence to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish - about 5 per cent of the total stocks in the area, which stretches from southern Queensland around Tasmania and across to Western Australia.
The Margiris is banned from working in sea lion hunting grounds and must operate a 24-hour underwater camera on the ''catch excluder'', which is supposed to eject dolphins and large marine creatures that are accidentally caught.
An observer from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority will be aboard the trawler permanently. If the Margiris kills one or more dolphins, or three or more seals, it must stop fishing, consult with the observer about improving its methods, and move 50 nautical miles away.
Mr Geen said these were measures Seafish Tasmania planned to take anyway. He could not rule out some deaths of dolphins, seals and birds but said the super trawler would take the strictest measures to avoid them.
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said it was now up to the Fisheries Minister, Joe Ludwig, to stop the boat.
''No conditions can hide the fact that this is an oversized, oversubsidied ship from a European fleet that is swinging a wrecking ball through fisheries all over the world,'' he said.
Greens marine spokesperson Peter Whish-Wilson is calling on his Tasmanian Labor and Liberal colleagues to support a motion to stop the super trawler.
“If Minister Tony Burke hasn’t got the spine to stand up for the marine environment, and to take on the Dutch Super trawler to stop it from operating in Australian waters, then the parliament must take direct action,” Senator Whish-Wilson said today in a statement.
“We’ve heard lots of talk from the other parties on how they were working with Minister Burke to stop the super trawler and it has all come to nothing.”
with Judith Ireland