Media Release Marine Parks

Report reveals foreign-owned supertrawler threats to Australia’s fish stocks and marine environment

May 7, 2019

The next Australian Government must launch an urgent independent inquiry into the threat of foreign-owned supertrawlers on the country’s fish stocks and its unique marine environment, says an investigative report from Save Our Marine Life (SOML) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

The 54-page report, titled “The threat to Australia’s oceans from supertrawlers” also calls for a “total and permanent ban on supertrawlers in Australia’s vulnerable fisheries” after revealing the current sham ban excludes just six boats from Australian waters, leaving the door open to more than 70 currently in operation globally.

And the report shows there is both “motive and opportunity” for foreign fishing fleets and supertrawlers to operate in Australia’s waters, while documenting serious issues across some vessels from overfishing and impacts on threatened species to links with organised crime, poor labour conditions and the undermining of coastal communities.

Adele Pedder, Save Our Marine Life spokesperson, said: “What this report shows clearly is that we need a real and meaningful ban on supertrawlers in Australia’s vulnerable fisheries, and an urgent parliamentary inquiry into moves to attract foreign fishing vessels to Australia and then allow them in by reflagging them as Australian.

“These ships have the capacity to catch, process and store hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish using one of the most indiscriminate methods you could think of. Supertrawlers are incompatible with everything we are striving for in our marine environment.”

Supertrawlers greater than 130 metres in length are currently banned from Australia’s waters, but the report finds this would impact just six vessels globally, while ignoring at least 71 that are between 95m and 130m. Vessels such as the notorious Dutch flagged supertrawler Dirk-Dirk, which was renamed the Geelong Star for its stint in Australia, would escape the current “ban”.

Key findings in the report, released today, include:

  • Australia’s waters are of low biological productivity, making them especially vulnerable to overfishing
  • There is growing interest from large foreign fishing vessels to access Australian waters as fish stocks decline elsewhere
  • Negative impacts on coastal economies is a real risk, with knock on effects to tourism and recreational fishing
  • The supertrawler threat comes as Australia’s network of marine parks was stripped of 40 million hectares of “no take” marine sanctuaries – the equivalent in area to losing every second national park in Australia
  • Risk to protected species is proven, with the deaths of dolphins, albatross and seals as a result of the Geelong Star’s operations in Australian waters.

The report gives a detailed history of the “age of the supertrawler” and the illegal activities, abuses of workers’ rights, killing of other marine species and the overfishing that has been associated with too many of the vessels around the globe.

Report author and marine conservation expert Chris Smyth said: “Australia has not been immune to the impacts of industrial fishing, with overfishing and collapsed stocks, some of which are yet to recover. There now exists a new threat, with supertrawlers and other large fishing vessels roaming the oceans looking for fish, and Australian waters are now in their sights.

“Fishing regulations notionally prohibit the entry of foreign fishing vessels, but this has not stopped the approval of foreign supertrawlers to fish in Australian waters.”

As well as examining supertrawlers, the report looks at the impacts of large longline and “super-seine” vessels and their role in overfishing globally, and the risks of these foreign-owned fleets entering Australia’s fisheries.

Key recommendations are for a total and permanent ban on all supertrawlers in Australia’s vulnerable fisheries, and for an urgent Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry to investigate the threat of foreign fishing fleets and the adequacy of current regulations.

Pedder added: “Our precious marine environments are facing significant pressures from industrial fishing, pollution, oil and gas developments and climate change. Allowing in supertrawlers and other foreign factory ships to ‘strip mine’ our oceans will be a disaster for Australia’s fisheries, treasured marine life and international reputation. The supertrawler sham-ban must be replaced urgently with a genuine permanent ban on all supertrawlers.”

The report “The threat to Australia’s oceans from supertrawlers”, authored by marine conservation consultant Chris Smyth, is published by Save Our Marine Life and the Australian Marine Conservation Society and is available here.


For media inquiries please contact Graham Readfearn on 0406 241 081

Note on supertrawler definition: Although the Australian government has used a minimum length of 130 metres to define supertrawlers, such a proxy captures only six factory freezer trawlers and is arbitrary in its application. The Fairtry was 85 metres and considered a supertrawler, the Dirk Dirk (Geelong Star) is 95 metres and also viewed globally as a supertrawler. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has defined purse-seine fishing vessels longer than 70 metres and ‘equipped with considerable freezing and storage facilities, capable of undertaking extended transoceanic voyages for harvesting fish’ as ‘super-seiners’.