Government was aware of “significant risk” of banning the super trawler

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 23rd October 2012

Australian Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Joe Ludwig, has said he had received confidential advice about the “significant risk” of banning a fishing super-trawler, prior to the Australian government imposing the ban.

In September this year, following an intervention by the Australian Minister for Environment, Tony Burke, and the introduction of additional environmental legislation – the Dutch super-trawler Abel Tasman, formerly named The Margiris, was banned for at least two years from fishing in Australian waters.

The ban overrode Mr Ludwig’s previous encouragement of the ship’s owners, Seaship Tasmania, and Mr Ludwig’s previous insistence that the ban would have adverse impacts on the Commonwealth government and the credibility of Australian fisheries.

ABC TV’s Four Corners program examined the chain of events that ignored advice from the key advisory body, and prompted a legislative change to ban the ship from fishing.

Four Corners reported last night that Mr Burke “secretly” worked on the legislation that banned the vessel last month, in spite of announcing he had already imposed all restrictions in his power to ABC’s Q & A program in early September 2012. Mr Burke defended the need for confidentiality.

“I didn’t know whether cabinet and the caucus would end up supporting me in a legislative pathway, so I wasn’t able to announce it at that point. But I had the department working on it straight away,” Mr Burke told ABC’s Four Corners last night.

The “secret” work of Mr Burke and Mr Ludwig changed the legislation to increase Mr Burke’s power and essentially banned the vessel. The legislation imposed by Mr Burke in September 2012 has halted the vessel for two years until further scientific research is carried out. A final declaration of the two-year ban is due in November 2012.

Four Corners also reported that the owners of the Abel Tasman, Seaship Tasmania, had “plans to buy up additional small fish quotas from Australian, so they could potentially increase their catch.”

It is reported that the owner of the vessel, Seaship Tasmania, may sue the government for damages up to $10 million if the final declaration of the ban goes ahead next month.

The Abel Tasman super-trawler is currently in Port Lincoln, South Australia. It is reported by Seaship Tasmania that it took seven years and millions of dollars for the ship to make its way to Australia from Europe.

Australia’s current seafood import predicament

An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) report from January 2012 revealed that Australia imports 72 per cent of its seafood.

In January 2012, an Australian Food News report said that sourcing sufficient seafood from overseas to meet Australian demand was becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. Global population growth and the increasing affluence in the countries producing much of Australia’s imports, mean that higher priced imports are inevitable, according to the report.