How Australians are helping stop super trawlers everywhere

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Feature Story - 8 June, 2013
When Australians spoke out to stop the Margiris last year, we helped secure a two-year ban that stopped the destructive supertrawler emptying our oceans of fish.

Greenpeace activists escort the Margiris out of Melbourne harbour © James Alcock / Greenpeace

By getting our government to send it back, Australians have also helped changed the face of fishing in Europe, and therefore the world, for the better. The European Union has just changed the rules (in spite of the hard lobbying of Margiris owners Parlevliet en Van der Plas, or P&P) meaning that their destructive fleets will no longer be able to cause more havoc.

The changes will mean that these EU monster fleets:

  • Will no longer be able to go abroad and fish already overfished species.
  • Will not receive huge subsidies of that sort that helped P&P build some of their worst monster boats.
  • Can’t exploit developing countries’ fish stocks without substantially more returns going to the resource owners themselves.

The small-scale fishermen who make up 80% of the fishermen in Europe will finally be recognised by EU legislation. As a result, they’ll have a better chance of getting a fair cut of profits.

P&P’s disregard for sustainability is so palpable because they have operated with impunity, propped up by subsidies and in a world. Political power continues to keep the fishing opportunities coming. Along with a massive campaign by Greenpeace’s EU offices, the response from Australia ended that.

Propped up by subsidies

P&P, as one of the richest and biggest fishing companies around, owns the five largest fishing trawlers on the planet. And  because of the power the industrial fishing lobby has in Europe, they’re used to getting their way. Here’s what its ships really get up to:

  • In December 2012, the 141 metre long FV Maartje Theodora was stopped in French waters and detained when authorities found 1,585 tonnes of illegally caught fish on board.  The company was fined a whopping € 595,000 - thought to be the biggest fisheries fine in the EU ever.
  • Over the course of a few months, the 125 metre FV Jan Maria dumped almost 1.6 thousand tonnes of perfectly good herring at sea to make room for fish with a higher market value in a highly wasteful practice known as “highgrading”.  That’s three times as much fish as was caught in total in the entire Australian small pelagic fishery in the 2010/2011 season.

Evidence presented by Greenpeace through whistleblowers has helped expose these scandals. In May, an influential investigative TV program in the Netherlands broadcast serious cases of illegal fishing and the connection to EU ministers.

A broken system

Overfishing has reached crisis point. Fisheries now collapse regularly. Right now, over a billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein and millions more rely on fishing for their livelihood. In this context it morally reprehensible that P&P threw away 1.6 million kilograms of fish simply to make space for more expensive ones.

Highgrading is the sort of practice no real fishermen would ever consider – but the operators of the Margiris, and of similar industrial fleets, are not fishermen; they are businessmen. They’ll catch fish to order at the direction of a sales team - motivated by short-term profits - who ensure that ships never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The Margiris is now in the South Pacific chasing the remnants of what was once a bountiful fishery, but which collapsed by 90% in just a few years of fishing by the Margiris and others. We’re not yet at a stage when these destructive vessels are gone for good, but these new regulations in the EU are a step towards getting these monsters permanently banned.

Looking to the future

Although far from perfect, Australia has many well-run fisheries and an improving record. Because of our ocean ecology, we’ll never produce vast quantities of seafood - but we can be world leaders in high quality, small-scale, sustainable production.

There’s no place for supertrawlers in that vision.  Greenpeace will continue to work to ban these monster boats for good, and make the current two-year ban permanent.

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