Access to Australia’s small pelagic fisheries (SPF) has created more controversy than commercial fishing in all of our other fisheries put together. Last month’s arrival of the 95-meter Dirk – Dirk, reflagged as the Geelong Star, into Australian waters has ignited a debate about whether this fishery ought to be fished for commercial purposes at all.

Last December the Government permanently banned vessels over 130 metres from fishing the SPF, after strong campaign from the general public and an independent scientific report to the government.

Dirk, is smaller 95 metre version of the now banned supertrawler Margiris and does not trigger the 130 m ban limit on fishing the SPF. However, it has a quota to fish over 16,000 tonnes of small pelagics a year. That’s more fish than goes through the Sydney Fish Markets each year and rightly classifies it as an industrial scale operation.

The Government is seemingly satisfied with the science about the impacts of industrial fishing on the SPF and local communities, including recreational fishers and has provided approval for it to fish.

However, Dirk has had anything but a good start to its fishing career in Australia, and is severely testing the faith the Government has placed in the science surrounding fishing the SPF. Dirk has already notched up 8 dolphins and two seal kills. Environment Minister has called these mortalities as “unacceptable and outrageous”.

See:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-03/environment-minister-dolphin-deaths-factory-trawler-outrageous/6440828

 

AFMA said, “the killings of such marine animals was inevitable but everything possible was being done to prevent them.”

In recent days AFMA has now banned night time fishing of the SPF in addition to other regulations.

http://www.afma.gov.au/strict-new-conditions-imposed-small-pelagic-fishery/

Such responses remind us of what the Independent scientific report said of the now banned supertrawler.

“It is inevitable that the (Declared Commercial Fishing Activity) DCFA would have direct interactions with protected species of pinnipeds, cetaceans and seabirds and some interactions will result in mortalities regardless of the adoption of the best available mitigation and management measures; however, there remains uncertainty about the extent of those interactions.”

It seems the ‘interactions’, even for the smaller Dirk, are far greater than many expected and has resulted in a major rethink of how Dirk will fish in the future. But how much mortality of sea mammals do we have to see for the Government to stop the Dirk from fishing?

See the full report here:

http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/report-expert-panel-small-pelagic-fishery

In addition, there has been considerable focus on where Dirk can fish. The SPF is a large fishery of over 3 million square kilometres.

Dirk can fish to 3 nautical miles of the coast near Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide Perth and every regional centre in between. Of concern to Australia’s recreational fishers is that Dirk can fish over the top of some of our iconic fishing grounds and take considerable volumes of baitfish from these areas, even though AFMA has set regulations on how much can be taken within particular areas.

In a constructive approach to this issue, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) has sought discussions with the Small Pelagic Fishing Industry Association (SPFIA). ARFF are seeking for Dirk not to fish key recreational fishing areas and areas where the fish aggregate to spawn within the SPF for one year. ARFF want this moratorium to be coupled with further science on the impacts of industrial scale fishing of the SPF. The areas where ARFF don’t want Dirk to fish are less that 10 percent of the fishery.

It is understood that the discussions have been in good faith but far from easy with both sides struggling to find common ground. Though the parties are still talking, many believe an agreement won’t be reached and the issue will revert to the media trenches, where the fate of the Margiris was decided.