Super trawler arriving in Tasman Sea

One of the world's largest super trawlers is due in the Tasmania Sea to take jack mackerel in an operation that terrifies environmentalists.

The 9500 tonne 142 metre Dutch-owned Margiris has a quota from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to take 18,000-tonnes of mackerel and redbait.

Greenpeace environmental activists managed to delay its departure from the Dutch port of Ijmuiden for five days.

Yesterday, a flotilla of more than 200 boats protested against the ship, concerned it will severely deplete local fisheries,  as well as populations of dolphins and seals which could be snared in its massive nets.

The biggest deep sea trawler operating out of New Zealand, Sealord's chartered Aleksandr Buryachenko, which also takes mackerel, is about half the size of Margiris by displacement.

Owned by Parlevliet & Van der Plas, Margiris is heavily subsidised by the European Union and comes as other super trawlers and sophisticated Chinese boats sail south to exploit the world's last great fish stocks.

Green Party fisheries spokesman Steffan Browning said protests by Tasmanian fishers and eco-tourism operators showed Margiris was not welcome. New Zealand should keep its waters super trawler-free.

"Its huge nets mean that smaller local populations of stocks are in danger of being wiped out."

Margiris recently left West Africa where it plundered fish stocks to collapse, and ironically, the fish it catches will be sold to West Africa, Browning says.

Mackerel was also turned into fish meal for salmon farms, including those in New Zealand which partly use Tasmanian fish meal.

Labour Party spokesman Damien O'Connor said New Zealand should ban super trawlers.

"While there might be the ability of quota owners to contract (Margiris) to do their catching we would expect government to intervene and prevent the licensing of such a vessel," O'Connor said.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter could not be reached, but Jane Willing, of the international fisheries management in the Ministry for Primary Industries, said they were aware of the vessel but it would not come into New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and quota stocks here would not be affected.

African states have banned Margiris and other European Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association (PFA) trawlers because of the way they destroyed inshore fisheries.

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust said that ''the fish the Margiris will target are a vital food source for important species like the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna, seabirds, marine mammals and game fish.

"Trawlers of this type have a horrendous record of by-catch and the ship itself represents a direct threat to marine mammals like dolphins and seals."

Tuna Club of Tasmania vice president Martin Haley said there was strong opposition to the "ocean-going vacuum cleaner's impending arrival".

Greenpeace said the ''bloated fleet'' of heavily subsidised European trawlers have fished their own waters to near collapse and they've ''brought fisheries to their knees everywhere they've been since''.

Radical environmentalists Sea Shepherd said Margiris will have a huge impact.

"If overfishing does not stop, the world's fisheries will completely collapse by 2048," they claim, adding ''allowing this super trawler to operate in Australia's waters would be a further sealing of humanities fate."

AFMA said there would be "robust management of fisheries will ensure that any fishing is sustainable" and highly selective.

"These mid-water trawlers use sophisticated electronic equipment and techniques to ensure that they catch the target species and very little else,'' AFMA's James Findlay said.

Earlier this year New Zealand tried saving Pacific jack mackerel stock off South America when Wellington international lawyer Bill Mansfield told an international fisheries group that the plunder of jack mackerel was disturbing and alarming.

Before controls could be brought in, a free-for-all took place in no man's water between Chile and New Zealand, with PFA boats predominant. Mackerel stocks fell from 30 million tonnes two decades ago to less than three million.

Pacific mackerel used to be found off New Zealand's east coast but has now disappeared.

Greenpeace's international fisheries expert Karli Thomas said while Margiris would fish in the Australian EEZ, New Zealanders should be very worried about the fleets of mega-trawlers that are roaming the world's oceans and in search of new fishing grounds and leaving in their wake collapsed fisheries.

"The PFA has been driven out of one area after another by fishery collapse or eviction, and now have their sights set on Australian waters," she said.

"The recent collapse of the jack mackerel fishery off the coast of Chile should serve as a warning - in a matter of a few years, and with world-class scientists (including from New Zealand) involved in its management, this fishery was brought to its knees."

She said the mega trawlers are too big for the ocean to sustain.

Last month Fairfax Media revealed China has sent an armada of sophisticated fishing boats into waters north of New Zealand. Official figures show there had been a 125 per cent jump in the size of the China South Pacific tuna fleet, with many of them just built.

One of the Chinese companies involved was caught shark finning but had been able to cover it up by under-the-table payments to Pacific Governments involved. 

Environmentalists are also watching another super trawler, the Spanish-owned and EU subsidised tuna purse seiner Albatun Tres which is hauling in huge loads of albacore.

Last week it was operating in international waters east of the Marquesas in French Polynesia.

It has a licence to move into the Western Pacific and was believed to be heading into Kiribati, which has a deal with Spain. The licence allows fishing inside the World Heritage listed 410,500 square kilometre Phoenix Islands Protected Area.