The federal government has approved “pair trawling” in Australian waters, giving the green light for two fishing vessels domiciled in Eden and Ulladulla to carry out the controversial practice, which recreational fishing groups and conservationists say will deplete fish stocks and pose a threat to protected species.
Atlantis Fisheries Consulting Group, acting on behalf of Muollo Fishing, lodged an application on December 8, 2016, with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to pair trawl for an initial period of 12 months.
The independent AFMA commission was asked to make a determination on pair trawling in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery – without considering Muollo Fishing's specific application – and approved an 18-month trial.
Pair trawling is carried out by two boats with each vessel towing two cables that connect it to the net; two vessels effectively doubles the horsepower enabling the use of smaller vessels.
The proposed vessels are the 35-metre Eden-based trawler Lukina II and 31-metre Ulladulla trawler Saxon Onward, both significantly shorter than the 95-metre factory trawler Geelong Star.
The application said Muollo Fishing was mindful of "community dissatisfaction and concern" surrounding factory trawlers, including the potential for threatened, endangered and protected species to be caught.
"However, the only way to tow a trawl net with small vessels at speeds sufficient to catch fast swimming SPF species and then to mitigate TEP captures is to pair trawl," it said.
The small size of the boats, which have no freezer capacity, would limit voyages to less than four days.
Public consultation closed in February; 67 submissions were received, the majority of which were opposed to mid-water pair trawling in the fishery.
The Eden Amateur Fishing Club and Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club have strongly condemned the trial.
NSW Greens marine environment and fisheries spokesperson Justin Field said the trial “opens the door that bit further to unsustainable commercial fishing in Australian waters”.
“The recent management of the fishery and the Geelong Star super-trawler debacle shows the Coalition Government can't be trusted to manage our fisheries sustainably,” Mr Field said.
The SPF covers almost 3 million square kilometres of ocean from southern WA to southern Queensland.
Far South Coast fishing clubs petition federal MP
Recreational fishers have lobbied federal Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly in their bid to get pair trawling banned.
Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club secretary Chris Young wrote to Dr Kelly this week saying the Small Pelagic Fishery covered some of Australia’s most iconic recreational fishing grounds.
Eden Amateur Fishing Club acting president Eddy Evans backed Mr Young, saying pair trawling would seriously deplete feeding grounds.
“If you kill recreational fishing, then you kill tourism and you kill Eden,” he said.
Mr Young said the Fisheries Management Act should be overhauled to include the interests of recreational fishers and the tourism industry.
The home bases of the vessels – Eden and Ulladulla – and their four-day trip limit meant that pair trawling would be “aimed solely at the NSW Far South Coast”, he said.
“Support for midwater trawling of the SPF, if at all, should be directed only to localities where there are no conflicts of interest with recreational angling.”