THE paranoia about the super trawler FV Margiris coming to South Coast waters became apparent earlier this week with a case of mistaken identity.
A large, strange looking ship cruising very close to the Tathra Wharf elicited the response “Is that the super trawler?” from more than one observer.
Now the truth is more like the super trawler is probably approaching Western Australia as it is due in Tasmania and maybe South Australia on or around August 20, but more on that later.
Back to the case of the mistaken ship identity…
Calling on my ship-spotting expert in Narooma who can pick up the signal transmitted by passing vessels, I was able to determine quick smart that the mystery ship was in fact the Aida, a Swedish car carrier belonging to the Wallenius Wilhemsen shipping company.
In another brief distraction, watching the nightly ABC news the other night I noticed a similar ship in footage taken at Christmas Island - this turned out to be her sister ship Parcifal.
And it just happens that the Tampa cargo ship, which innocently became embroiled in the infamous “babies overboard” case, was apparently also operated by Wilhelmsen Lines Shipowning.
The wonder of the internet and sites such as FleetMon.com and MarineTraffic.com means anyone can track ships around the world.
So I could tell the 200-by-32-metre Aida was heading to Port Kembla from Melbourne at speed of 15.3 knots.
The Facebook group Stop the Super Trawler meanwhile a few weeks ago used these sites to track the FV Margaris to the Vridi Canal on the Ivory Coast in Africa.
Unfortunately, once ships head out into the open ocean they are no longer trackable, so the very question “Where exactly is the super trawler?” itself remains a mystery.
But enough on container ships, and back to the super trawler, which became a topic for discussion at a Far South Coast Country Women’s Association (CWA) Group meeting.
Group agriculture and environment officer and Cobargo member Louise Allery showed photos of the Dutch-owned Super Trawler Margiris.
“Both recreational and professional fishermen and conservationists are up in arms over this venture, as the fish targeted are a vital food source for important and endangered species,” she said.
Down on the coast there is great concern at the Bermagui Big Game Angling Club with member Peter Blacker very worried the super trawler would come and plunder baitfish off the South Coast.
He said authorities by approving the super trawler’s quota were risking the hundreds of recreational boat trailers parked on the town’s headland.
Mr Blacker said even though the ship’s quota was only estimated at 5 per cent of the stock, the baitfish at certain times of year concentrated in big schools that potentially could be scooped all at once.
“Where will the marlin go then?” he said.
Responding to concerns was Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro, Peter Hendy said Environment Minister Tony Burke’s request for more information on how the quota was granted should be answered immediately.
“We need to make sure any approval for a ship of this size is in the best interest of all fishermen and communities, not just Tasmania,” he said.
What else do we know about the FV Margiris
So where will the super trawler end up? That is not exactly clear although the latest is that it will be based in Devonport, Tasmania by the end of the month.
More than 200 recreational vessels attended a recent “Day of Action” down in Hobart’s harbour with more planned, including one at Altona, Victoria on September 1,
With so much opposition to the trawler in Tasmania there’s been speculation that the 142-metre ship might end up in South Australia, closer to the Great Australian Bight fishing grounds.
But the mayor of Port Lincoln Bruce Green told The Advocate newspaper that the ship would not be welcome in his city’s port on the basis it could threaten to local fishing industry with its efficiencies.
"I think it would be less welcome in our city - it would be unwelcome," Mr Green said.
Juxtapose that with Southern Bluefin Tuna Association chief executive Brian Jefferies also from Port Lincoln who welcomed the FV Margiris and its ability to supply feed to the tuna farms.
The FV Margiris is looking to fish for redbait, jack mackerel and blue mackerel.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has apparently said the Dutch trawler's potential to deplete local Australian fish stocks needed to be carefully examined and is now demanding answers from AFMA.
Federal Fisheries Minister, Joe Ludwig, and federal officials are meeting joint venturer Seafish Tasmania, and recreational fishers to examine additional controls on the 9500-tonne ship's operations.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has set a 19,000-tonne annual quota for Seafish Tasmania of the target redbait, jack and blue mackerel. AFMA is also requiring independent observer coverage of the fishing.
"This is an extremely large fishery," Mr Burke said. "Is it possible that one large vessel, even though it's doing something that might be sustainable across the whole fishery, could it have a localised impact in some areas that is in fact not sustainable at a more local level?"
Opponents to the vessel meanwhile do not hold much faith in AFMA, its independence or ability to monitor the vessel.
The Greens using the Freedom of Information Act have revealed the authority increased the jack mackerel quota from 4,200 tonnes last year to 10,000 tonnes this year.
Allegations were made that this was at the request of SeaFish Tasmania in order to make the fishery viable for a super trawler.
And there have been even more scurrilous accusations.
Key independent MP Andrew Wilkie has made statements saying the AFMA process may have been unlawful.
Mr Wilkie has written to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about apparent irregularities in the AFMA assessment process.
He said a decision to sharply raise the mackerel quota was made by an AFMA advisory group that included Seafish Tasmania's director Gerry Geen.
However Mr Wilkie said AFMA failed to publish minutes of the meeting which should specify what decision the advisory group took about this apparent conflict of interest.
"It now appears the process by which the quota was arrived at may have been unlawful," Mr Wilkie said.
The latest according to news reports is that the ombudsman will launch an official enquiry.
So where does this leave us…
With the Margiris set to arrive as soon as next week, we may be risking serious depletion of our ocean just for 40 jobs and to keep some Dutch fish merchants rolling in it and manufacturing demand.
This is more like mining the ocean all to sell the fish for $1 a kilo back in Africa or for fish-farm feed.
The stock assessment apparently dates back to 2003 and is probably way out of date, while the issue of local depletion should be major concern, even if advocates say these mackerel are highly mobile, they are also the ultimate schooling fish.
Do we want to risk becoming ocean desserts like off New Zealand, Europe and Africa that have been hammered by large factory ships.
By all means exploit the quota a bit more but there are Australian fishermen and boats able to do it if there is in fact demand for fish and people are willing to pay a fair price – we should not be selling off our oceans and future for pennies.