Will Super Trawler Deplete Ocean Fish Stocks?

By September 12, 2012 Ocean News
Super Trawler awaiting approval on catching 18,000 tons of fish this year in Australia

A super trawler is about to embark on its first fishing job off the coast of Tasmania is what might be a new way to fish for the future.

Usually, when “Super” is added to a word it means a good thing like SUPERman, or you did a SUPER job, but when you add the word Super in front of Trawler, you can’t expect an Ocean Conservation community that already knows fishing stocks are either depleted or being depleted around the world to be over joyed when they hear of a SUPER TRAWLER!!!

What’s a Trawler?

A simple definition of a trawler is a ship equipped with a large net (varies in size), which is released in water and catches any fish that gets caught in the net as the ship pulls the net behind it. The nets can be deployed on the bottom of the water body or in the middle of the water column. Nets range in size and the holes within the nets also range in diameter, which is dependent on the fish the ship is trying to catch.

The Super Trawler

Super Trawler awaiting approval on catching 18,000 tons of fish this year in AustraliaThe difference between this Super Trawler, named the AV Margiris compared to other trawlers is that it’s a really big ship and it has the capability to catch and store (4000 tons) a lot more fish than a regular trawler (about 100 tons), which means the ship can stay out longer than a smaller trawling ship. The ship does not have to make as many back and forth trips to the dock to unload its catch so that it can go back out to sea to catch more fish.

Now that we have a bit of a description on the ship and its capabilities, let’s figure if the ship is something we really need to worry about.

What Does The Science Say?

I’m all about the science, of course, I am a scientist. It’s the scientists’ job to understand the distribution of the fish being caught as well as the population size and health. In other words, where do the target fish swim and live; are there many of them, and will the population be able to handle being fished. The last point of whether the fish population will be able to handle being fish requires a quota to be set every year depending on the number of fish. If we didn’t set a quota, the fishing industry would just take as many fish as they could until they are gone (which has happened to many fish in the past).

So according to the Australian Government, a number of scientists have agreed to set a quota of 18,000 tons of jack marckerel and redbait fish. This quota was very conservation as the fish biomass (weight of fish, a common measurement used to estimate fish population size) were estimated to be 200,000 tons. The trawler would be allowed to catch around 9% of the biomass of the fish. So it seems as though the scientists have done their job setting the quota on the best data that they have and according the the scientists, the quota is very conservation (it’s small) just to be on the safe side.

Now as a scientist, I am trained to critique and question everything scientific…it’s what we do best. So when I hear a ship that can hold 4000 tons more fish than a regular trawling ship, I get nervous. I am not saying the scientists did not estimate properly. I really believe the 18,000 ton quota is legitimate. I am concerned about 2 things:

1) Local fish populations might be wiped out – Fish might live all within the designated fishing area, but there are local populations of fishes distributed throughout the fishing zone. So if the Super Trawler decides to catch fish within a localized area, then it could deplete that area of fish. The 18,000 ton quota is for a specific region, so the ship can catch fish anywhere within the region it wants as long as it doesn’t catch more than 18,000 tons of fish. However, this suggests that the trawler can catch fish in one local area within the region if that is where most of the fish live; and,

2) Will the company in charge of the Super Trawler respect the quota? – You would think the answer to that question would be yes, wouldn’t you? Well, the movie “The End Of The Line” stated the tuna fishing industry quota for tuna one year was 15,000 tons; suggested by scientists. However, the European Union established a quota of 30,000 tons due to lobbying pressure from industry. The estimated actual take for the year was 60,000 tons, 45,000 tons more than the scientists suggested. The Australian government stated it agrees with its scientists and will probably set the quota at 18,000 tons…for now! My question is: Will the Super Trawler take more than the quota? Only time will tell.

Check out the trailer for the great documentary called “End Of The Line”

What about the other Fisherman?

After looking at the potential effects on the environment, we have to look at how the presence of the Super Trawler will affect the local fishing industry, in other words, will local fishermen lose out on fishing. In an ABC report in Australia, a local fisherman was not worried about the presence of the Super Trawler. In fact, he thought it was a great idea as it might open up the fishing world fishing markets to the community, which was not previously available.

I wonder if the quota set for the local fishing industry changes with the presence of the Super Trawler. I assume that a quota is set for each fishing vessel based on the size and capacity of the vessel as well as the cost of the fish to ensure each fisherman can make a living, or close to it. I can’t see the government just adding another 18,000 tons of fish to a vessel WITHOUT affecting the current quotas of the rest of the fishing fleet. I couldn’t find any mention of this possibility in any of the articles I read or watched. Perhaps it is not an issue, or not one that was necessary to discuss.

Do you think the Super Trawler will obey the quota limits set by the Australian Government?

Start the Discussion in the comments below.

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