In recent years, the operation of factory freezer trawlers in Australian
waters has attracted controversy. Following the FV Veronica in 2004 and
the FV Margiris in 2012, then known as the FV Abel Tasman,
the latest vessel to be a source of widespread community and stakeholder
concern is the FV Geelong Star, which commenced fishing in the
Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) in 2015.
Stakeholders opposed to the operation of factory freezer trawlers in the
SPF argued that these vessels harm and/or present significant risk to the
marine environment and the sustainability of fishing activities. Other
stakeholders, however, contend that the vessels can operate sustainably and
that Australia's regulatory system successfully minimises the risk of
overfishing and other unacceptable outcomes.
This inquiry has provided an opportunity to air and test various claims and
Referral and reporting timeframe
On 7 September 2015, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by
30 April 2016:
The environmental, social and economic impacts of
large-capacity fishing vessels commonly known as 'supertrawlers' operating in
Australia's marine jurisdiction, with particular reference to:
- the effect of large fishing
vessels on the marine ecosystem, including
impacts on fish stocks and the
marine food chain, and
bycatch and interactions with
protected marine species;
current research and scientific
- social and economic impacts,
including effects on other commercial fishing activities and recreational
- the effectiveness of the current
regulatory framework and compliance arrangements;
any other related matters.
On 31 March 2016, the committee presented an interim report requesting
an extension of time to 24 August 2016 for the final report.
On 8 May 2016, the Governor-General issued a proclamation dissolving the
Senate and the House of Representatives from 9 am on 9 May 2016 for a general
election on 2 July 2016. As a result of the dissolution of the Senate for an
election, the committee ceased to exist and the inquiry lapsed.
The 45th Parliament commenced on 30 August 2016 and members of this
committee were appointed on 1 September 2016. On 13 September 2016, the Senate
agreed to the committee's recommendation that this inquiry be re-adopted with a
reporting date of 23 November 2016. The Senate also agreed to the
recommendation that the committee have the power to consider and use the
records of the Environment and Communications References Committee appointed in
the previous parliament that related to this inquiry.
Conduct of the inquiry
As noted above, the inquiry spans two parliaments—the 44th and 45th—with
the conduct of the inquiry interrupted by the dissolution of the Senate prior
to the 2016 general election.
Progress during the 44th Parliament
In accordance with its usual practice, the committee appointed in the
previous parliament advertised the inquiry on its website and wrote to relevant
individuals and organisations inviting submissions. The date for receipt of
submissions was initially 20 November 2015; however, the committee subsequently
agreed to extend the submission receipt date to 22 January 2016.
The committee received 167 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1.
The public submissions are also available on the committee's website at www.aph.gov.au/senate_ec.
In addition to the published submissions, the committee received a
significant number of form letters and other correspondence, the overwhelming
majority of which expressed opposition to super trawlers operating in
Australian waters. This material is categorised as follows:
Four different form letters were sent to the committee with
10,833 letters received in total
from Australian residents and residents of other countries. The committee
agreed to publish an example of each type of form letter and the number of each
type received. A breakdown of the form letters by type is at Appendix 1.
The committee also received 138 emails containing short
statements of support for the inquiry and/or opposition to factory freezer
trawlers. This correspondence was available to the committee throughout
the inquiry, however, the emails were not published as submissions.
During the 44th Parliament, the committee conducted a hearing in Hobart
on 15 April 2016. A list of witnesses who appeared at the hearing is at
Progress during the 45th Parliament
Following the re-adoption of the inquiry on 13 September 2016, the
committee published seven additional submissions. The committee also continued
the program of public hearings with a public hearing held in Canberra on
1 November 2016.
As above, further information about the submissions and witnesses who
participated in the public hearing is at Appendices 1 and 2 respectively.
The committee thanks all of the individuals and organisations that
contributed to the inquiry.
Structure of the report
This report comprises six chapters, as follows:
Chapter 1 has outlined introductory matters regarding the
referral and conduct of the inquiry. The remaining sections of this chapter
provide background information on:
the jurisdictional and regulatory arrangements for Commonwealth
fisheries, including an overview of the agency responsible for managing these
fisheries—the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA);
the fishery that is relevant to this inquiry—the SPF;
the factory freezer trawler that is the subject of public
concern—the FV Geelong Star; and
the debate about the operation of the Geelong Star,
including a brief overview of the positions held by key stakeholders on the
management arrangements for the Geelong Star. The term 'super trawler'
is also discussed.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the management arrangements
currently applied in the SPF and to the Geelong Star.
Chapter 3 examines the evidence received about the effects and
potential effects the Geelong Star has, or may have, on the marine environment
in the SPF.
Chapter 4 considers the evidence received about the economic and
social consequences of the activities of the Geelong Star.
To the extent that these matters were not discussed in the
preceding chapters, Chapter 5 examines the management of the SPF by AFMA,
including the science relied on for the management of the fishery, AFMA's
decision-making processes and the transparency of the operations of the Geelong
The committee's findings and recommendations are outlined in the
Note on references
References in this report to the Hansard of the 15 April 2016
public hearing are to the official version of the transcript. References to the
1 November 2016 public hearing are to the proof version of the transcript. Page
numbers may vary between the proof and the official Hansard transcripts.
Overview of the regulation of Commonwealth fisheries
The following paragraphs provide background information on the
jurisdictional and regulatory arrangements relevant to Australia's fisheries
and the roles and responsibilities of AFMA, which is the agency charged with
managing Commonwealth fisheries.
Fishing zones and jurisdictional
Australia's marine jurisdiction comprises:
Australia's territorial sea—which extends to 12 nautical miles
from the coast and within which Australia has full sovereignty; and
the contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and
continental shelf, areas within which the Commonwealth has certain rights. For
example, within the EEZ, Australia has 'has sovereign rights to explore and
exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources', such as fisheries.
The Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), which was first declared in 1979,
encompasses Commonwealth waters—generally the area covering three nautical
miles to 200 nautical miles from the Australian coast and also including
the waters surrounding Australia's external territories, such as Heard and
Macdonald Islands in the Antarctic.
The area covered by the AFZ is depicted at Figure 1.1.
Figure 1.1: Australian Fishing Zone and AFMA managed
AFMA, 'The Australian Fishing Zone'.
The AFZ reflects the Commonwealth's constitutional responsibilities.
Paragraph 51(x) of the Constitution provides the Commonwealth with the power to
legislate relating to 'fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial
limits' (three nautical miles), leaving the states generally responsible
for managing inland fishing and coastal fisheries out to three nautical miles
from the low-water mark.
1.21 Under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement between the Commonwealth,
states and the Northern Territory,
however, parties can agree to 'adjust these arrangements by passing management
responsibility for particular fisheries exclusively to the Commonwealth or to
the adjacent states/Northern Territory; or alternatively, for the Commonwealth
and the states/Northern Territory to jointly manage a fishery through a Joint
That is, 'state and territory governments generally manage fisheries within
their borders and inside three nautical miles from shore, except where Offshore
Constitutional Settlement exist between the Commonwealth and state
The Commonwealth has 'generally limited its jurisdiction to commercial fishing,
with the state/Northern Territory governments assuming responsibility for
Australian Fisheries Management
AFMA is a Commonwealth statutory authority responsible for managing
Commonwealth commercial fisheries, managing Australian boats fishing on the high seas
and deterring illegal foreign fishing in the AFZ.
AFMA is also involved in the management of several fisheries jointly with other
Australian jurisdictions or other countries.
AFMA's objectives and functions are outlined in the Fisheries
Administration Act 1991. In summary, the principal objectives are:
implementing efficient and cost-effective fisheries management on
behalf of the Commonwealth, and ensuring such arrangements and related
activities implement Australia's obligations;
ensuring fishing and related activity is consistent with the
principles of ecologically sustainable development,
including exercise of the precautionary principle, and in particular the need
to have regard to the impact of fishing activities on non-target species and
the long term sustainability of the marine environment;
maximising the net economic returns to the Australian community
from the management of Australian fisheries;
ensuring accountability to the fishing industry and to the
Australian community in AFMA's management of fisheries resources; and
achieving government targets in relation to recovery of AFMA's
The functions provided to AFMA under the Fisheries Administration Act
include, among others:
devising and implementing management regimes that relate to
fishing for fish stocks;
devising and carrying out fisheries adjustment programs,
fisheries restructuring programs and exploratory and feasibility programs
relating to fishing;
establishing priorities in respect of research relating to
fisheries managed by AFMA and arranging for the undertaking of such research;
making arrangements in relation to the placement of persons as
observers on board boats used for commercial fishing, including foreign
fishing boats operating, or intended to operate, outside the Australian fishing
zone if such placements are consistent with Australia's international
establishing and allocating fishing rights, and establishing and
maintaining a register of fishing rights;
any functions provided under legislation relating to plans of
management or recreational fishing; and
collection, on behalf of the Commonwealth, of payments from
person exploiting fisheries resources.
AFMA's Commission is responsible for 'performing and exercising the
domestic fisheries management functions and powers' of AFMA. AFMA's
Chief Executive Officer, who is also a Commissioner, is responsible for
performing and exercising AFMA's foreign compliance functions and powers, and for
assisting the Commission, including by giving effect to its decisions.
1.26 AFMA's submission explains that it is also required to comply with the
Ministerial Direction to AFMA of 2005 to 'the extent it is consistent with the
pursuit of its objectives'. AFMA explained that the direction 'seeks to focus
AFMA's activities on a number of its objectives, including avoiding
overexploitation of resources, economic efficiency (by implementing individual
transferable quotas) and ecologically sustainable development. The direction
added that, in pursuing these objectives 'AFMA must take a more science-based
approach to decision making'. The Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy,
which is discussed in Chapter 2, arises from this direction.
Other departments and agencies
Although responsibility for fisheries policy falls under the Agriculture
portfolio, the Department of the Environment and Energy has responsibilities
under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The EPBC Act requires the Australian government to assess the environmental
performance of fisheries and promote ecologically sustainable fisheries
management. The department's primary role in fisheries is 'to evaluate the
environmental performance of fisheries, including the strategic assessment of
fisheries under Part 10 of the EPBC Act; assessments relating to impacts on
protected marine species under Part 13; and assessments for the purpose of
export approval under Part 13A'.
To export product, fishing operations in Commonwealth waters 'must first
be accredited under the EPBC Act'. The Commonwealth Fisheries Association,
which is the peak body for the commercial fishing industry in Commonwealth
regulated fisheries, explained that the accreditation includes:
...the requirement to monitor, mitigate and report any
interactions with protected species. Accreditations are subject to regular
reassessment and often include requirements to undertake specific actions to
reduce their effects on protected species.
The Small Pelagic Fishery
The operation of factory freezer vessels in Australian fisheries is not
a new phenomenon—a factory freezer vessel has operated in the Southern and
Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery since 1988 to catch blue grenadier.
The stakeholder and public concerns about the effects and potential effects of
factory freezer vessels relate to vessels that operate, or proposed to operate,
in the SPF.
The location of the SPF is indicated at Figure 1.2. The fishery is
divided into east and west geographical sub-areas at latitude 146°30' east.
Figure 1.2: Map of the Small Pelagic Fishery
Source: Department of
Agriculture and Water Resources, Submission 12, p. 10.
In the SPF, commercial fishers target Australian sardines,
blue mackerel, jack mackerel and redbait.
Catches can be used for bait for fishing operations, fish meal for
agricultural feed, and human consumption.
Sustained concerns about attempts to bring large mid-water fishing
trawlers into the SPF led to the government, in April 2015, banning all boats
over 130 metres in length from undertaking fishing related activities within
Nevertheless, concerns about the operation of the FV Geelong Star
remain; these concerns are the focus of this inquiry.
History of the SPF
The history of the SPF is important for understanding concerns about the
operation of factory freezer trawlers and how aspects of the management
framework have evolved. The SPF's history in recent decades can be divided
between fishing operations undertaken by purse seiners and mid-water trawling
by traditional vessels, and fishing or interest in fishing through the use of
factory freezer trawlers.
Fishing by traditional fishing
From the mid-1980s to 2000, a large-scale purse seine fishery for
jack mackerel operated off the east coast of Tasmania.
This fishery was known as the Jack Mackerel Fishery, and it was jointly managed
by the Tasmanian government and AFMA. Since December 2001, the fishery has been
known as the Small Pelagic Fishery, and it became managed solely by AFMA in
In the early 2000s, mid-water trawling was introduced to the SPF.
Dr Jeremy Lyle from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS)
explained that this 'was largely linked to the fact that the purse seine
operators were having difficulty locating surface schools of fish'.
Dr Lyle advised that the 'jury is out...to some extent' on what issues in the
fishery caused the decline of the purse seine industry. However, Dr Lyle offered
the following observations:
We have looked at the structure of the population, and there
is certainly no strong indication that it was overfishing that caused the
demise of the purse seine fishery. It was certainly economics...It is a
trade-off. They were small vessels or relatively small vessels, but they were
taking very large quantities of fish which were then used for fish meal. They
were quite restricted in where they could operate, so that was an issue there.
Also at that time there were a number of environmental changes. There has been
a suggestion that the reason we are not seeing a lot of surface schools of jack mackerel,
which is what that fishery was targeting, is related to general oceanographic
changes and a kind of disappearance or a reduction in the krill, which was the
primary feed for the fish. So they have actually switched and are feeding more
on subsurface rather than surface species.
Following the shift to mid-water trawling, between 2002 and 2010 a
single vessel—the FV Ellidi—was dedicated to operating in the fishery.
Seafish Tasmania explained that the vessel ultimately stopped operating in the
SPF and was sold because its operations were unsustainable. It provided the
following explanation of the financial pressures that the operation of the Ellidi:
Although catches with this vessel were substantial, peaking at
around 13,000t in 2005, the business struggled to operate profitably. The low
returns from onshore fishmeal production and from supply of onshore frozen fish
for bait or tuna feed undermined the potential viability of the fishery.
At this time, it was clear that financially viable operations
in the fishery would depend on two factors: the ability to supply the market
for human consumption; and to be able to flexibly move throughout the range of
the fishery to take advantage of seasonal abundance of the target species, and
conversely to avoid dependence on local availability of fish in fishing grounds
adjacent to a home port.
It is clear that there is some disagreement about what occurred in the
jack mackerel purse seine fishery and the Tasmanian mid-water trawl redbait
fishery. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust submitted that both of these
fisheries 'failed in less than 5 years in two separate events'. It added:
Supporters of the Geelong Star and AFMA's current
management of the SPF claim that the failure of jack mackerel and redbait
fisheries had nothing to do with fishing and were the result of (unspecified)
environmental factors. In fact, while there is some evidence to suggest climate
change did impact the jack mackerel fisher[y], age size data from catch records
suggests that fishing was having an impact...
Even if one was to accept that fishing had no impacts on the
failure of the jack mackerel and redbait fisheries, and was solely due to
environmental factors, this raises another issue that...has been ignored by AFMA:
we do not know or understand what those environmental factors might be.
Climate change is having a significant impact on the marine environment off
southern Australia and may have impacts on SPF species.
Mr Jonathan Bryan, who has served on various advisory committees and
groups relating to the regulation of the SPF and is the marine spokesperson for
the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, subsequently told the committee:
There is a lot to say about the jack mackerel fishery. I
think it is reasonable to assume that climate change or some other
environmental change was largely responsible for that collapse, but there is no
denying that age, size and structure of the stock indicated that fishing was
having some sort of impact.
AFMA, however, rejected the description that the redbait fishery
'failed'. It informed the committee that it is not aware of 'any
scientific basis for stating that the redbait fishery "failed" or
that an apparent failure was caused by overfishing'. In relation to both
the redbait and jack mackerel stocks, AFMA added:
For example, the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery:
Fishery Assessment Report 2011...states that 'Recent low catches of Redbait
East have been attributed to reductions in local abundance associated with
increased water temperatures off eastern Tasmania'. This is supported by more
recent advice from the SPF Expert Panel in relation to jack mackerel.
Unsuccessful plans to bring factory
freezer vessels to fish the SPF
Although this inquiry focuses on the Geelong Star, it follows
public debate as to whether other large trawlers should be permitted to fish in
Australian waters, such as the debates about the FV Veronica (2004) and
the FV Margiris (2012), then known as the FV Abel Tasman.
The Veronica is a 106-metre factory freezer vessel that an Irish
company sought to bring to the SPF. A statutory management plan was not in
place for the SPF at the time; consequently, AFMA froze boat nominations in the
fishery while management arrangements were enhanced. This 2004 decision
'effectively precluded the entry of the FV Veronica since the vessel
could not be nominated against an SPF fishing permit'.
The next factory freezer vessel that was proposed was the Margiris,
a 143‑metre factory trawler with a freezer capacity of 6200
tonnes. As part of a joint venture between Seafish Tasmania and the Dutch fishing
company Parlevliet & Van der Plas BV, it was planned that the Margiris
would fish Seafish Tasmania's quota fishing rights in the SPF. The Margiris
arrived at Port Lincoln in August 2012. On 5 September 2012, the Margiris
was registered as an Australian-flagged vessel and renamed the Abel Tasman.
Broad public concerns about the proposal for the Margiris to fish
in the SPF resulted in legislative changes and ministerial decisions that
prevented the ship from fishing in Australian waters. In September 2012, the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing
Activities) Act 2012 was passed. The Act gave the Minister for the
Environment the power to establish an independent expert panel to conduct an
assessment into the potential environmental impacts of a declared commercial
fishing activity and to prohibit the declared commercial fishing activity while
the assessment is undertaken.
In November 2012, then Minister for the Environment, the Hon Tony Burke
MP, declared that large-scale mid-water trawl freezer vessels, such as the Margiris,
could not fish in the SPF for two years while an independent expert panel
considered the impact its activities would have on fisheries and the
Following this determination, the Margiris left Australian waters in
Seafish Tasmania unsuccessfully sought judicial review of the Minister's
Industrial-scale fishing activity in the SPF was not proposed again until
the Geelong Star. At present, only the Geelong Star and two other
purse seine vessels are active in the fishery.
The FV Geelong Star
The FV Geelong Star commenced fishing in the SPF on 2 April 2015.
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.
Figure 1.3: The FV Geelong
Source: AFMA, Submission 18,
Attachment 5, p. 1.
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.
The fish caught by the Geelong Star is shipped to export markets,
usually in West Africa.
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,
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.
The following timeline (Figure 1.4) outlines key events following the
arrival of the Geelong Star, some of which will be elaborated on
elsewhere in the report.
Figure 1.4: Timeline of key
events relating to the Geelong Star
AFMA is notified that
Seafish Tasmania Pty Ltd had nominated the Geelong Star to fish its
concessions in the SPF.
The Geelong Star
commences fishing in the SPF after AFMA confirms that the vessel met its
requirements. The nomination followed registration of the Geelong
Star as an Australian-flagged boat by the Australian Maritime Safety
AFMA announces that the
operators of the Geelong Star had notified it of two seal mortalities
and four dolphin mortalities.
AFMA bans night-time
fishing by the Geelong Star and implements a requirement that, if a
dolphin mortality occurs in a management zone within the fishery (there are
seven zones), that zone will be closed to fishing by mid-water trawl method
for six months. The explanatory material that accompanied the instrument
imposing the ban noted that, in two trips since 19 April 2015, eight common
dolphin mortalities during night-time fishing were reported by the operators
of the Geelong Star.
Following a dolphin
mortality, AFMA closes a management zone (zone 6, which is off the coast
of southern New South Wales and eastern Victoria) for six months.
AFMA ends the
night-time fishing ban.
The Senate negatives a
motion to disallow the legislative instrument that ended the night-time
announces that the commercial and recreational fishing sectors had
recommenced negotiations on fishing operations in the SPF.
Zone 6, which was
closed on 17 June 2015, re-opens. AFMA confirms that there have been no dolphin
mortalities in the SPF since the closure of zone 6.
As part of the
negotiations between the commercial and recreational fishing sectors, Seafish
Tasmania voluntarily agrees that the Geelong Star will not fish in SPF
management zone 7 until the end of the season on 30 April 2016.
AFMA announces that the
Geelong Star will not fish again until additional mitigation measures
to minimise any further interactions with seabirds are agreed to by AFMA. The
decision follows 'a higher than expected level of albatross mortalities' on
the vessel's previous fishing trip in the SPF.
mitigation measures relating to seabirds are announced by AFMA. The Geelong
Star recommences fishing.
A whale shark ran into
the outside of the vessel's net and became caught by two of its fins. On 19
February, AFMA issues a statement noting that its scientific observer on board
the Geelong Star reported that the whale shark was subsequently freed
from the net and swam away without difficulty. AFMA later advises
(on 24 February and 17 March) that the whale shark spent an estimated 3
minutes, 35 seconds out of the water while, with the use of a crane, it was
brought onto the boat, freed and released into the water.
indicates progress has been made in negotiations between recreational and
commercial fishing interests about the operations of the Geelong Star,
with Seafish Tasmania offering
voluntary undertakings about areas where and dates when the vessel will not
fish. However, by April the Australian
Recreational Fishing Foundation had decided not to participate in further
AFMA announces that
more than one million square kilometres of additional offshore waters near
southern and eastern Australia will open to mid-water trawling in the SPF,
allowing the Geelong Star to catch its fishing quota in a greater
The voluntary offer
made by Seafish Tasmania in February 2016 comes into effect. At Seafish
Tasmania's request, AFMA will monitor and report on compliance with the
agreement and will report on bycatch of gamefish.
AFMA releases a revised
vessel management plan for the Geelong Star.
Sources: Department of
Agriculture and Water Resources, Submission 12, p. 12; Mr Allan Hansard,
Managing Director, Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, Committee
Hansard, 15 April 2016; various AFMA media releases and website statements
(www.afma.gov.au); and media releases issued by Senator the Hon Anne Ruston,
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources on 27 November
2015, 1 December 2015 and 25 February 2016.
Key stakeholder positions on the Geelong Star
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
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'.
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'.
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'.
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'.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
The positions held by various stakeholders and the various arguments
they presented to the committee to substantiate their positions will be
expounded in the following chapters. The final section of this chapter
discusses the meaning of the commonly-used term 'super trawler' and the
implications of the term for policy debate.
Meaning of 'super trawler'
The terms of reference for this inquiry uses the term 'large-capacity
fishing vessels to indicate the types of vessels that the inquiry is to target.
The terms of reference also note that these vessels are commonly known as
'super trawlers'. Neither term, however, is defined.
The lack of a definition is useful in that the scope of the inquiry can
be as broad as the committee considers is necessary. The term 'super trawler',
however, is vague and some stakeholders questioned what trawlers are actually
included in the scope of this term. Although it appears to be accepted that
factory freezer trawlers greater than 130 metres in length are 'super trawlers',
it is less clear whether it is appropriate to apply this term to other factory
trawlers that are smaller than this size.
The CSIRO noted that the term 'super trawler' has only been used in
Australia since the debate regarding the Margiris, despite factory
fishing vessels having operated in Australian waters for almost 20 years.
Although the term was commonly used in public debate, including in government
announcements, the initial declaration that prohibited the Margiris from
operating in the SPF did not use the term.
The first use of the term 'super trawler' in a legislative sense occurred
in April 2015, when the government made the Fisheries Management Amendment
(Super Trawlers) Regulation 2015. This regulation banned all boats over 130
metres in length from undertaking fishing related activities within the
Australian fishing zone.
In a media release announcing the government's intention to impose the ban,
it was explained that the definition was based on that used by the
previous government and environmental non-governmental organisations.
Then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator the Hon
Richard Colbeck, subsequently added that the decision:
...was based on the definition of 'supertrawler' that
was effectively in the public arena at that time and the broader debate around
what the definition of supertrawler might be.
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.
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.
Other submitters, however, maintain that 'there is no correlation between
vessel size and fishing power'.
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'.
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
In their evidence to this inquiry, key stakeholders differed in their
Mr Malcolm McNeill, the Chief Executive Officer of Petuna Sealord
Deepwater Fishing, which operates a factory freezer trawler in the Southern and
Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, suggested that the term 'super trawler' is
emblematic of a debate that is not well informed. He explained:
The terminology of 'supertrawler'—the word itself—is quite
I do not believe that it gives a real indication of what is really happening
out there and what big boats are about et cetera. Personally, I think there is
misinformation out there and utilising the word 'supertrawler' is quite
emotive. There is nothing really that super about bigger boats; they are just
The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries
commented on the term 'large capacity', which is used in the terms of
reference. The department submitted:
The operational power of the vessel, the size and design of
the gear permitted for use and the skill and experience of the crew operating
the vessel all influence fishing capability and environmental risk. This needs
to be differentiated from the seafaring capability and interior design of a
vessel and its ability to process and store catch.
The CSIRO used the term 'factory fishing vessel', which it defined as
...large fishing vessels, usually stern trawlers, equipped for
processing and freezing fish at sea. They differ from standard trawlers in
their capacity to process and freeze the catch on board, typically to improve
quality and thus value of the product (unloading finished product ready to be
shipped to market or be exported worldwide).
The submission from AFMA used 'factory freezer mid-water trawler' to
describe the Geelong Star. The term refers to both the processing and
freezing capabilities of the ship and the fishing method used.
To avoid confusion with the definition of super trawler provided by the
Fisheries Management Amendment (Super Trawlers) Regulation 2015, this report
will not use the term super trawler to collectively refer to vessels such as
the Margiris and the Geelong Star. This report uses the term
'factory freezer trawler', based on the CSIRO's description of a factory
fishing vessel outlined above.
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