Greenpeace escorts super trawler Margiris out of Port Melbourne

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Feature Story - 14 March, 2013
The notorious monster boat, the Margiris, pulled out of Port Melbourne on Thursday on a course straight out of Australian waters.
© Greenpeace/Richard Simkins

And like most Australians, we’re happy to finally see the back of it.

On Thursday night activists in Greenpeace inflatables escorted the notorious Margiris super trawler out of Port Melbourne so it knows we’re watching its every move.

We’re incredibly relieved to see the back of it -- but the story doesn’t end here. The tragedy is that the vessel may head off to devastate fisheries elsewhere in the world as it has done rapidly in the past.

Greenpeace had earlier confronted the Margiris (now known as the Abel Tasman) in West Africa in March 2012 and then again in the Netherlands in July. We stand in solidarity with the small-scale fishers whose livelihoods would be destroyed by monster boats like the Margiris: no monster boats here, not anywhere.

For years, the Margiris has been plundering the Pacific, Atlantic and many places in between.  I can do this because it can stay at sea for lengthy periods of time - given its ability to store more than 6,000 tons of fish. Indiscriminate large-scale fishing like this is jeopardising the livelihoods and food security of millions of people who depend on our oceans for food and jobs.

The facts about super trawlers like the Margiris are what make ships like this so frightening. Its nets can be big enough to hold 13 jumbo jets -- a capacity which can catch the equivalent weight of 20 buses of marine life every day. It’s not just fish that become trapped: endangered turtles, dolphins and seals are often netted too.

It’s no wonder super trawlers have destroyed jobs and livelihoods in West Africa and the Pacific. These ships - which represent a small minority of fishermen in the world - receive a grossly disproportionate allocation of fishing opportunities compared to smaller (and more sustainable) operators, because of subsidies, political power or simply their ability to travel to waters further from coastlines.

Globally, industrial scale ships like the Margiris employ just 5% of the world’s fishermen, but their huge capacity enables them to scoop up as much fish as the remaining 95%. This places a massive strain on local (and more sustainable) fisheries.

Public opposition to these ships is huge, in Australia and globally. Tens of thousands of Australians took action when the super trawler attempted to fish in Australian waters last year. In Senegal, the collective actions of 52,000 local fishermen pushed the government to ban all foreign trawlers from local waters.

Where to next for the Margiris? At this stage it’s unknown. Ships like this are always on the prowl for new places to fish. Greenpeace will be watching all super trawlers closely and shining a light on their destructive ways until they end up where they belong: on the scrapheap.

Will it ever return to Australia? Not in the short term. Environment Minister Tony Burke banned it from fishing in Australian waters for two years last October. But with news the a coalition government would overturn the super trawler ban, it’s clear we can’t relax just yet.

For now,we can be thankful that by speaking out together we sent a strong message to the owners and operators of super trawlers everywhere: not here, not anywhere.