Reaction to factory trawler Geelong Star leaving, fears she may return

Recreational and commercial fishers and Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly have welcomed news the factory trawler Geelong Star has left Australian waters, and is reported to be now off South Africa.

However, there are concerns she will return to Far South Coast NSW when additional quota is allocated to the vessel’s operators.

Dr Kelly said the Geelong Star had “slipped off the radar” on the eve of the Senate inquiry report being handed down into the operation of super trawlers in Australian waters.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) confirmed on November 22 the vessel was no longer operating in Australian waters.

According to ship tracker website Marinetraffic, the Geelong Star is believed to be operating in waters off South Africa.

The controversial trawler had been operating in the Small Pelagic Fishery off the NSW Far South Coast for 18 months. 

Community concerns centred on the impact the Geelong Star was having on recreational fisheries during the peak tourist season and its impact on the diverse marine life in far South Coast waters, Dr Kelly said.

“I am proud to have stood together with recreational fishers, the tourism industry and environmentalists to ensure proper consideration was given to our local marine life”, Dr Kelly said.

“While we’re buoyed by this outcome, I’m calling on the Turnbull Government to be upfront with the people of the NSW Far South Coast about whether the Geelong Star will be returning to Australian waters.”

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) on Tuesday confirmed the mid-water, factory trawler was no longer under Australian jurisdiction.

“Enquiries about the decision to leave Australian waters or future fishing operations of the Geelong Star, should be directed to the operator,” a statement reads. “The Geelong Star is not currently subject to any investigation by AFMA for breaches of Commonwealth fishing regulations.”

Tourism operators and fishing clubs on the Far South Coast had been calling for greater restrictions on the vessel, holding concerns about the level of fishing and localised depletion of fish stocks off Narooma and Bermagui. 

In January, a whale shark was caught in its nets and brought on board for a short time, while other marine life including seals, dolphins and albatross were also caught.

Narooma charter boat operator John Moore attended a meeting with Dr Kelly and representatives from recreational, charter and commercial fishing sectors in September.

Mr Moore said he understood the Geelong Star left Australian waters about three or four weeks ago after unloading in Melbourne all her frozen catch from her initial quota allocation.

The vessel would return next year to catch her new quota allocation of small pelagic fish and most likely would be coming back to the rich fishing grounds off Narooma and Bermagui, he said.

“She can catch her quota on one trip, offload and then leave Australian waters to go fish elsewhere until more quota is allocated to her back in local waters,” he said.

Bermagui commercial hook, line and trap fisherman Jason Moyce, who goes by Trapman Bermagui on social media, held concerns about the amount of time the vessel spent at the 12-Mile Reef over several months earlier this year and welcomed the news the vessel would be moving on. 

He was able to work with the vessel operators to notify them of his trap locations, so they did not run over them.

Fairfax Media has attempted to contact the Small Pelagic Fishing Industry Association and the ship’s operators in Australian waters, SeaFish Tasmania, and is awaiting response.

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