Petition to ban super trawlers sent to parliament as 95-metre boat nears

Environmental groups and some MPs are ramping up their campaign against ‘factory trawlers’ as the Dirk Dirk approaches Victorian waters

A petition urging a ban on massive fishing trawlers has been presented to parliamentarians, as environmentalists warn such a vessel will soon enter Australian waters.

The Dirk Dirk, also known as the Geelong Star, is 95 metres long and will operate outside Victoria’s fishing exclusion zone which ends 3km from the shore.

“Right now there is a large freezer factory trawler steaming towards Australia, despite the ongoing broad opposition to the industrialisation of our fisheries,” Rebecca Hubbard from Environment Tasmania said. “[Parliamentary secretary for Agriculture] Senator Colbeck is welcoming this new trawler into Australia.”

“It is almost 100 metres long. It will be the largest vessel fishing close to Australian shores and second only to a vessel operating deep in the Southern Ocean,” independent MP Andrew Wilkie told reporters on Wednesday.

Labor implemented a temporary two-year ban on super trawlers in 2012, after public outcry over the entry of vessel FV Margiris, later renamed Abel Tasman. Environmentalists say the vessels deplete native fish stock and affect the food chain of other species like sharks, birds and dolphins.

On Christmas Eve last year, Colbeck announced a permanent ban on super trawlers, which he defined as vessels over 130 metres in length. Vessels smaller than that with large freezer-factory capacity are allowed to fish in Australian waters.

The Greens say that definition is not good enough, and have accused Colbeck of trying to avoid scrutiny with the timing of the announcement.

“He does a Christmas dump and run of a piece of legislation that we haven’t seen any detail on, that he wants to ban trawlers of 140 metres,” Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said. “Well there are only three vessels that big [worldwide].”

“I think the Coalition in this instance are certainly preferencing commercial fishing over recreational fishing. There’s no other explanation for it,” he said.

The Liberal party received $320,000 in political donations from the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association in the 2013-14 financial year.

Whish-Wilson said the donation “could be perceived as political and therefore looking for political outcomes”.

Labor senator Carol Brown said the government must take into account the fishing capacity of the vessel in the ban.

“It should not be on the basis of their size, it’s about what they can do,” Brown said.

A petition of 75,000 signatures against the entry of large fishing vessels into Australian waters was presented to parliamentarians on Wednesday morning.

Several environmental groups, including Rebecca Hubbard’s, had collected the signatures.

A spokeswoman for Colbeck told Guardian Australia that the senator had not yet received the petition.

The document is expected to be tabled in the Senate shortly.

Wilkie, who led the fight against the Margiris, said the outrage over super trawlers was one of the biggest environmental campaigns in recent history, labelling “an almost unprecedented level of public concern with the industrialisation of our fisheries”.

Labor MP Melissa Parke quoted one of her constituents, author Tim Winton, in explaining why people signed the petition.

She said people were concerned “with the Godzillas of the sea coming to plunder our family silver; silver that moves, breathes and swims”.

Contributor

Shalailah Medhora

The GuardianTramp

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