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article imageGovernment permanently bans super trawlers in Australian waters

By Megan Hamilton     Dec 25, 2014 in Environment
Super trawlers are now permanently banned in Australian waters, the federal government announced last Wednesday.
Australia's Labor government issued temporary bans on these trawlers two years ago, and this was re-endorsed by Tony Abbott last March.
This move will prevent vessels longer than 130 meters from fishing in Australian waters, said Richard Colbeck, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, The Guardian reports.
The definition of super trawler doesn't take into account how much a vessel can process, and supporters of the ban say this is just as critical as the size of the vessel.
"This government will introduce regulations under the Fisheries Management Act to give effect to this decision," Colbeck said in a statement. "This decision will have policy effect immediately."
He also said that the government "has consulted widely and accepts the legitimate concerns of many in the community, including those involved in recreational and commercial fishing."
"The government is determined that Australian fisheries management remain among the best in the world," he wrote in the statement, per The Guardian.
Public outcry spurred Labor to ban these huge freezer-factory vessels. One petition in particular, The Stop the Super Trawler petition has garnered almost 63,000 signatures.
"The super trawler was banned from Australian waters ... it was banned with the support of members on this side of the house. It was banned. It will stay banned," Abbott said in an address to the House of Representatives in March.
Colbeck was critical of environmental activists who say that this measure doesn't go far enough in protecting Australian waters.
"While some of these fears (about super trawlers) have been generated by ill-founded anti-fishing campaigns and by activist groups, the government has consulted widely and accepts the legitimate concerns of many in the community, including those involved in recreational and commercial fishing," he said, The Australian reports.
Environmentalists say that introducing this ban is little more than a palliative, because it will still allow vessels up to 130 meters long to continue their destructive ways.
"The proposal as it stands focuses on boats over 130 m in length, which is a real issue because there are many smaller freezer factory trawlers that have the same capacity to suck out thousands of tonnes of fish and we don't know if they'll be covered from this ban," said Rebecca Hubbard, a spokeswoman for Stop the Trawler Alliance (STA), a group of industry and environmental organizations hoping to shut out super trawlers. "Dolphins, seals, tuna and other protected species will be under equal threat from a slightly smaller vessel that has huge capacity."
For Nobby Clark, a spokesman for GameFish Tasmania Sports Fishing Club, the timing of the announcement felt dubious to him and he worries that a smaller trawler was "just around the corner," he said, per The Australian.
"We're very worried this is getting ready for a 110-plus meter boat to come in very soon," Clark said. "I'm a little bit perplexed. We applaud the government in coming forward in banning vessels over 130m, but I don't think there are too many vessels going to be affected."
One super trawler in particular, the 143m Margiris, operated by a company in Tasmania, was seeking to catch jack mackerel and redbait along Australia's southeastern coast.
"Since then we've become aware of other smaller and other equally impacting freeze factor trawlers," Hubbard said. "There is interest from the same company to bring in these trawlers in the new fishing year (in May)."
Dean Logan, Australian Marine Alliance chief executive was critical of the government's decision saying that it does not protect family-run local businesses.
"This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the federal government to prosecute the case that they are committed to marine conservation," he said, per The Australian. "We must support family oriented (businesses) before we give the green light to super trawlers."
The American Museum of Natural History notes that trawling is often devastating to marine ecosystems. It's a widespread method of catching fishes and invertebrates (especially shrimp) where ships pull huge funnel-shaped nets through the sea. Most trawling rakes the bottom of the sea bed, targeting groundfish, shrimp and scallops, and this disturbs or kills vast numbers of other species in the process, the AMNH notes.
The noted oceanographer Sylvia Earle calls bottom trawling "the subsea equivalent of collecting the entire farm when the goal is to bring in a bushel of apples."
Deep sea corals are vulnerable to seafloor disturbances caused by large-scale commercial bottom traw...
Deep sea corals are vulnerable to seafloor disturbances caused by large-scale commercial bottom trawling for fish.
NOAA's National Ocean Service/
"It simply sweeps up everything at the bottom, destroying a diversity of life that has existed for as long as the earth has," said Dr. Les Watling, Professor of Oceanography at the University of Maine. Watling is an expert on benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. Sadly, we know so little about the biodiversity on the sea bed that some species are being lost before we even know they exist, the AMNH notes.
Trawling is also devastating in terms of by-catch (animals that are snared unintentionally).
Shrimp fisheries can be particularly destructive because of the extremely small mesh sizes utilized in the nets. In the Gulf of Mexico, the AMNH notes, for every pound of shrimp caught, another eight to nine pounds of "trash fish" such as stingrays, eel, and flounder are mangled and tossed away. This number doesn't take into account the tons of plants and animals like sea stars, sand dollars, seaweed, and corals that aren't considered worth reporting as by-catch.
Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles are caught as by-catch each year, on longlines, in shrimp trawlers, gill nets and purse-seine nets, The World Wildlife Fund reports. Of the seven marine turtle species, six are categorized as "vulnerable," Endangered" or "Critically Endangered" worldwide, according to the IUCN Red List.
A Pacific Leatherback turtle  one of the largest species of marine turtles.
A Pacific Leatherback turtle, one of the largest species of marine turtles.
Additionally, at least 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each year after being entangled in fishing gear, and the WWF notes that by-catch is causing one death every two minutes. For these small cetaceans, it is the single-largest cause of death.
Sea birds, sharks, corals and other marine invertebrates suffer huge losses as swell, the WWF notes.
While it is worthwhile that the Australian has curbed the super trawlers, undoubtedly this worldwide marine holocaust will continue, but at what cost?
More about Australia, super trawlers, australia government, The guardian, the american museum of natural history
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