Stop the Margiris and spare the oceans


We Australians love a local link. When big news happens around the world, instinctively the first thing we check is whether an Aussie was involved. But, this time around, the story is coming to us in the form of the imminent arrival of the 142 metre long Margiris super trawler.

The Margiris is the second largest fishing boat built. It dwarfs the Hobart class destroyers commissioned to protect our shores.

Already, thousands of Australians have expressed their alarm and opposition to the super trawler arriving in our waters. But this outrage is part of a wider global story that goes all the way from the European Union in Brussels to the World Bank in Washington and to fishing villages in Africa and the Pacific.

The basic problem is that there is too much capacity in the global fishing fleet. According to the World Bank, the global fleet is 2½ times what the oceans can sustain. The situation in Europe is even worse. And, with European stocks of fishing running out, the biggest and worst of Europe’s fleet – boats like the Margiris – have gone in search of other fishing grounds.

The seas off the west coast of Africa have been among the hardest hit. Earlier this year, the west African nation of Senegal went to the polls. Among the usual big issues there was an unexpected topic running hot with voters: super trawlers. In May, the newly elected government of Senegal acted decisively, kicking out the super trawlers and demanding they empty their catches in the capital, Dakar. Local Senegalese fishermen have reported a surge in their catches since this action was taken.

Super trawlers such as the Margiris are oversize factory fishing vessels. They can pull enormous nets capable of encircling 13 jumbo jets. Once the fish are sucked up on board via a huge vacuum hose and the by-catch is discarded, the fish are frozen and stored on board. This enables boats like the Margiris to stay at sea for months on end, fishing and storing millions of tonnes of fish.

Of course fish are not the only animals caught up in such huge nets. Dolphins and seals are routinely caught and drowned. By-catch is one of the main concerns of the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, as he considers his options on the Margiris. He is right to be worried. The company looking to bring the Margiris to Australia, Seafish Tasmania, claims there is new technology to reduce these impacts. But the research the company relies on still means more than one seal is killed for every trawl. And even this has not been trialled on the Margiris.

The EU is going through a once-in-a-decade process to sort out its broken fishing laws but the big end of the fishing industry – including the owners of the Margiris – is a powerful lobby group. The Gillard government has the power to stop the Margiris and that would be great news for our local oceans. But if Australia follows the lead of Senegal and says no to super trawlers, it could also be a key to changing the politics of fishing in Europe, too.

David Ritter is CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. Follow Ritter on Twitter @david_ritter

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 31 August

  • If this is not be brought to your attention
    Who will monitor the vessel’s operations?

    Observers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority will be onboard the vessel to monitor catches of quota species, by?catches and interactions with marine mammals and seabirds.

    Gerry Geen’s Experience
    Partner and Director
    Seafish Tasmania

    Chief Economist
    Australian Fisheries Management Authority
    October 1994 – June 1996 (1 year 9 months)

    Providing advice to the AFMA Board on fishery policy issues.

  • Marli Burgman

    We must stop this super trawler from operating in Australian waters. It should not be fishing in any waters and we cannot understand how any person can allow this disgusting killer of our beautiful marine life to even be built. Julia Gillard will not have any supporters if her government allows this to happen. The government must get a lot of pay offs from companies such as this, but it is the same as bribery and should not be tolerated.
    From very passionate Australians in regional Victoria, who will never give this government another vote ever if this is allowed to happen.

  • Jason Miller

    This is not acceptable. We do not need this super trawler into Australian waters. The greed of a few will destroy the life of the waters off our coast. We have the power to stop this and it should be heard. We are the voice of the environment and we need to stand up for a better world for our future. Some human are selfish creatures that think its there right to play god. We did not create the world but we are destroying it at a fast rate. Not enough is done we need to act now stop the trawler….

  • Arnold Mapleson

    Please do not let this happen in our waters. WHAT IS OUR GOVT” THINKING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gregory Page

    At last a state with courage. SA has stopped the Margiris. Somalia kicked it out but Sen Bourke looks for easy options. The Qland premier really does not want it registered there. Why don’t the other states stand up and lock this ship out. The other real threat is that now Seafish Co. has shown the model for getting around the laws here you can bet that next year we will have more of these boats as we are the only ones with fish. All they have to do is buy into an Aust. fish company, put 3 Australians on board to register their boats here, call it the Endevour and start fishing. If they want a quota all they have to do is contact Mr Green at Seafish just as the Dutch did and he will arrange it. We complain about the chinese buying our land but at least the land stays here. With this boat both the fish and the money goes overseas.