The FV Margiris: Bad news for Australia

Feature Story - 27 June, 2012
In the late afternoon on Wednesday 27 June, at a port near Amsterdam, Greenpeace activists took action to prevent the departure of the FV Margiris, one of the world’s largest super trawlers, bound for Australian waters, from leaving the Dutch port of Ijmuiden.

Activists locked a chain around the ship’s propeller and two climbers fixed themselves to the cables between the ship and the quay, to prevent the ship from beginning its journey to Tasmania. If approved it would begin fishing in Australian waters as early as August, under a partnership between Seafish Tasmania and massive Dutch fishing operation Parlevliet en Van der Plas.

The prospect of the Margiris’s arrival has led to a groundswell of opposition across Tasmania and the rest of Australia.  In just over a week more than 11,000 people have signed a petition asking the Australian government to refuse it permission to fish in our waters.

Sign the petition:

The FV Margiris: Bad news for Australia

The issues concerning opponents of the vessel are many.  Local recreational and professional fishermen recall days when you could walk across the backs of the jack mackerel schooling outside Devonport, where the Margiris is set to berth.  A fisherman’s tall tale maybe, but local NGOs point out - and fisheries managers acknowledge - that the last time we had a jack mackerel fishery off Tasmania, it collapsed.

Now scientific advisors are concerned that no steps have been taken to properly measure the fish population before they start fishing, or while they’re fishing.

Others are concerned for Tasmania’s unique and relatively intact environment. The Margiris simply doesn’t have a place in their special part of the world.  Tasmania’s massive tourism industry relies on it being seen as a place with clean plentiful waters and untouched natural scenery.

But there’s a bigger story to Margiris.

The Margiris is running out of places to fish. European waters don’t have enough fish left to sustain this sort of vessel or the sheer number of boats plying their seas. On the other side of the world, Jack mackerel stocks in the South Pacific plummeted by 90%, robbing Margiris’s of one of its old stomping grounds.

Earlier this year Greenpeace took direct action against her off the West African coast of Mauretania, where almost all the species targeted by foreign trawlers are now fully exploited or overexploited.  Everywhere she goes the fish seem to disappear.

The cruellest irony? If she makes it to Tasmania she’ll be exporting the catch right back to West Africa where local fisheries are now living with the legacy of foreign plunder – depleted seas and struggling fishermen.

Despite the destructive history of their fleet, the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association has raked in hundreds of millions of euros in direct and indirect subsidies, revealed by Greenpeace.

Along with 170 other countries, including the EU, Australia signed on to the UN’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.  Recognising that there are 2.5 times more fishing vessels in the water than fish stocks can sustain, the UN agreement includes a commitment to reducing overcapacity and overfishing and the subsidies that help drive them.

By allowing the Margiris to fish in Australian waters for the same small pelagic species it has ruined elsewhere, we are feeding the swollen EU fleet, and displacing the overcapacity problem.

Fishing capacity must be cut by more than half and boats like Margiris should be scrapped first. We need to draw a line in the sand and decide which vessels are allowed to ply our ocean for fish. If it robs ordinary fishermen of jobs it needs to go. If it’s propped up by unsustainable subsidies it goes. If it’s using destructive fishing methods that result in unacceptable by-catch it goes. And if it’s so big that no stretch of ocean can sustain its hunger for fish, it goes.

Along with a broad cross-section of the community that has declared the Margiris unwelcome, we will be ramping up efforts to stop it doing the same in Australian waters.