Geelong Star confirmed fishing off Bermagui Narooma

TRAWLER SIGHTING: A game fisherman sighted the factory trawler Geelong Star off Eden last week, posting this photograph to Facebook, which generated much comment.

TRAWLER SIGHTING: A game fisherman sighted the factory trawler Geelong Star off Eden last week, posting this photograph to Facebook, which generated much comment.

The presence of a controversial super trawler in Eurobodalla waters has sparked an outcry from recreational fishers throughout the shire, but supporters say the industrial vessel is acting within its legal rights.

Recreational game fishermen sighted the Geelong Star on Wednesday morning last week, at the “Bait Hole”, north of Bermagui, on the edge of the Continental Shelf. The factory vessel was banned from local waters for six months after dolphins were killed in its nets on previous trips.

Fishers said on VHF Channel 22 the mystery vessel did not register on their on-board AIS vessel identification systems, which has been issue raised with the Geelong Star’s operation. Commercial fishermen in Bermagui were also concerned that the 91-metre mid-water trawler was operating near their fixed traps and lines.

The issue has drawn condemnation among many Narooma News readers and drew 70 people to a meeting on the Far South Coast.

However, small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association chairman Graham Turk said operations had followed the “detail and spirit” of the agreement reached with recreational fishers on December 1, including leaving a week before the major game fishing tournament on January 25. Mr Turk on Monday confirmed the vessel was off Bermagui, targeting Jack mackerel, although it also fished for blue mackerel and red bait.

“The recreational game fishermen are saying there is still plenty of bait around off Bermagui, so it’s not having any impact at all, especially when you consider that the total allowable catch for the whole industry is only 8 per cent, leaving 92 per cent of fish in the water,” he said.

The trawler had been allocated about half the total allowable catch and was also moving to minimise local depletion. Mr Turk said the vessel had not caught a dolphin for six months and new gear and techniques were constantly being tested. Asked if it would not be be better to have more smaller vessels, he said the vessel needed to be large enough to freeze fish for human consumption.

Dr Simon Allen, of Murdoch University, spoke in Merimbula on Friday. “Pelagic or mid-water trawlers do not destroy habitat, but they are still non-selective and lead to the bycatch of non-target and protected species,” he said. “With such large nets operating over such large areas, there is a high level of uncertainty about whether or not the impacts of a factory/freezer trawler can be sustained by local marine mammal populations.” Read more

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