As the super trawler Margiris steams towards Australia’s shores, a series of concerns have been raised. One is the impact on marine life, like dolphins and seals, that invariably are caught in the vessel’s enormous nets. Although according to the operators, this issue has been solved. So has it?
This week, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke added his voice to the concerns about the unwanted bycatch that the Margiris may scoop up while taking 18 million kilogrammes of fish out of Australian waters. He has a point. The risk for bycatch is a very real one on these big trawlers.
When I was on board Greenpeace vessel MY Arctic Sunrise earlier this year, campaigning against the plundering of African waters by super trawlers like the Margiris, we regularly came across large herds of dolphins playfully chasing schools of fish. Images similar to these posted on the Daily Telegraph were a common sight. Often this joyful experience was overshadowed by the image of a trawler in the background chasing after the same fish as the dolphins do. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that these trawlers accidentally scoop up these dolphins when fishing.
The evidence of bycatch is not only anecdotal. Scientists have been doing extensive research on this issue specifically focusing on Dutch super trawlers like the Margiris for 4 years, which has been published in a peer reviewed journal . These scientists have also come up with devices to mitigate bycatch, such as exit hatches in nets. The research showed that these devices can be effective for certain species, but certainly not for all of them, and they are definitely unable to prevent all unwanted bycatch. No dolphin was, for example, released by these devices. Scientists argue that because of claustrophobia, dolphins do not use the exit that was offered to them.
Installing these escape tools for bycatch comes with an operational cost. Their functionality results in a lower catch. An operator therefore has to find a balance in how much catch he is prepared to give up to save the lives of dolphins and seals.
This research was produced in 2006. The owners of the Margiris, Parlevliet and Van der Plas have had plenty of time to have these bycatch devices fully operational and optimised by now. Yet no follow up research has been conducted on the effectiveness of exit tools, and the company is unwilling to give us any information about their use.
When I was in Mauritania tracking and confronting the Margiris and other super trawlers in March this year, I had several discussions with super trawler crew about the bycatch issue. They all said there is no problem. They could not ‘however’ forward me research to prove it. And when I asked them to go onboard so they could show me how they prevent bycatch, I wasn’t permitted. You would expect a company would be proud to show how they solve the problem of bycatch in order to get critics off their back. Apparently they are not. Or would the real reason be that they have not yet solved the problem like they say they have?
It will be up to Tony Burke to find out the real truth before accepting this super trawler ruining Australian ecosystems.
No super trawlers. Not here. Not anywhere.
Source: Greenpeace International