WHEN news broke that a massive commercial fishing vessel was heading this way, there was little hint of the equally massive amount of controversy it would cause.
Nanjing Night Net

The official announcement that the FV Margiris would soon call Devonport home came in early June.

The announcement was accompanied by a flashy information pack complete with pictures of the 143-metre long vessel.

And we were introduced to the term “super trawler” as though the vessel was some sort of comic strip hero ready to strike life into the North-West economy.

At that stage, Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Geen was happy to talk to the media, running through the various precautions they would take, the advantages of the freezing on board system and the number of jobs it would create.

Sure there were a few grumbles from the Greens and environment groups about the “giant vacuum cleaner” from the outset but Seafish Tasmania seemed to have all the answers.

That didn’t last long.

Fast forward two months and Prime Minister Julia Gillard is talking about concerns about localised depletion in Federal Parliament while Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is considering intervening in the approval process.

The super trawler has not lost its larger than life character, but it is now firmly the villain of this story.

A huge army of Tasmanian recreational fishers, who have shown impressive mobilisation skills, can take credit for reframing the vessel and putting the issue on the national agenda.

They sure know how to stage a protest. They’ve used their boats to great effect, both on the road and the water. As a result, they’ve drawn huge attention to the issue and Canberra has started to take notice.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority argues the paleagic fishery in question, which takes in Commonwealth waters from Western Australia to New South Wales, can sustain the 18,000 quota.

But recreational fishers fear the FV Margiris could take a large chunk of that from just a few places rather than evenly spread across the large area.

Supporters of the boat say the fishermen’s campaign is based on emotion and fear generated from the sheer size of the vessel, rather than science.

For weeks, Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig has refused to get involved in what he says is a matter for the independent authority which granted the quota.

But that has not stopped Mr Burke coming in from the sidelines this week echoing fishermen’s concerns about localised depletion and threatening to land what could be a big blow to the company’s plans.

He may not be able to turn the vessel around, but he looks set to ensure the final approvals are not merely a formality.

Back in June, operators were hopeful of embarking on their first commercial voyage within three months.

Now Mr Geen has taken to issuing the same response, via a public relations firm, to the almost daily queries about the vessel and its impending arrival.

They have committed to not overfish in any one area and they are disappointed some people are choosing to ignore the science.

In stark contrast to these bland statements, the highly visible and vocal recreational fishermen are impossible to ignore.

Super trawler FV Margiris.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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