Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Gillard Labor Government acts to stop super trawler

Media release
11 September 2012

Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has announced plans to legislate to extend his legal powers over the super trawler FV Abel Tasman, (formerly FV Margiris), to prevent the vessel fishing in Australian waters.

“If we get this wrong there are risks to the environment, to commercial operators and to everyone who loves fishing and they are risks I am not prepared to take,” Mr Burke said.

“There has never been a fishing vessel of this capacity in Australia before and the EPBC Act needs to be updated so that it can deal with it.”

The 142m super trawler is currently docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia.

Mr Burke acted after first raising concerns over the potential for harmful by-catch of dolphins, seals, seabirds and threatened or protected species.

“Last week I used all the powers available to me under the EPBC Act, (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), to ensure that all legal steps are being taken by the super trawler to limit its impact on any listed species, but I want to do more,” Mr Burke said.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in the community about the environmental, social and economic impacts of a fishing vessel of this size.

“At the moment there are no general powers in the EPBC Act to prevent new fishing vessels like the FV Abel Tasman from fishing while further scientific assessments are undertaken.

“I have been lobbied for some time on this issue by a large number of Labor MP’s.

“It was my view that legislative change should not be pursued until we knew how far I could go under current law.

“Once it was clear that my legal powers under the EPBC Act were constrained I commenced working with my department on these changes.

“That is why I directed that urgent legislation be drafted to amend the EPBC Act to stop the FV Abel Tasman,” he said.

The amendment will prohibit the super trawler engaging in a declared fishing activity in Commonwealth waters while a further assessment is undertaken by an expert panel that will report directly to the Minister.

“If the amendment I am proposing is passed by the parliament I will be able to work with the Fisheries Minister to set up an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all of the potential impacts of the FV Abel Tasman before it can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters.

“Until this expert panel has reported to the parliament on their assessment, the declared fishing activity will be prohibited.

“It is important we undertake an open and transparent assessment process to help restore the public’s confidence in our management of our Commonwealth waters.

“We are not in the business of taking big risks with the ocean which is why Australia has the best-managed and most sustainable fisheries in the world,” Mr Burke said.