Super-trawler banning law enacted as Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Act 2012

Thursday 20 September 2012 @ 11.47 a.m. | Trade & Commerce

The Bill which effectively banned the operation of the now infamous, if not famous Dutch Super-trawler “Abel Tasman” received toyal assent yesterday (19 September 2012) and saw its way into law as the  Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Act 2012.

This amending Act amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) to provide for the Minister to establish an independent expert panel to conduct an assessment into the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of a declared fishing activity and to prohibit the declared fishing activity while the assessment is undertaken. The effect of this is to effectively ban Seafish Tasmania the licensees of the “Super -trawler” and the “Super-trawler” operators from operating for at least two years. Seafish Tasmania, which still wants to licence the Super-trawler to fish in Australia, said it would fight the matter, saying the Environment Minister 's intervention to stop the vessel was discriminatory.

In detail the amending Act amends the EPBC Act to create a new Chapter 5B to:

  • enable the Minister, with the agreement of the Minister administering the Fisheries Management Act 1991 (Cth) (Fisheries Minister), to declare a fishing activity, to be a ‘declared fishing activity’ on an interim basis (interim declaration) if both Ministers agree that:

  • there is uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of the fishing activity;

  • it is appropriate to consult with fishing concession holders who consider themselves to be detrimentally affected by the making of a final declaration for the same fishing activity (declaration affected person); and

  • the declared fishing activity should be prohibited while consultation occurs,

  • enable the Minister, with the agreement of the Fisheries Minister, to declare a fishing activity to be a declared fishing activity for a period of no longer than 24 months (final declaration) if both Ministers agree that:

  • there is uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of the fishing activity;

  • it is appropriate to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of the fishing activity; and

  • the declared fishing activity should be prohibited while the expert panel conducts its assessment of the fishing activity,

  • ensure procedural fairness by requiring that the Minister must consider the written submissions of declaration affected persons before making a final declaration. Further, the Minister cannot make a final declaration for a fishing activity that has not been the subject of an interim declaration;

  • create civil penalty and offence provisions for engaging in a declared fishing activity;

  • provide for the establishment of an expert panel to conduct an assessment of the potential environmental, social or economic impacts of the declared fishing activity, as specified in its terms of reference, and report to the Minister; and

  • provide for the publication of the report of the expert panel and the tabling of the report in Parliament.

The campaign against the vessel was led by Greenpeace, taking a series of blockade actions in both Australia and the Netherlands, on fears its haul could include threatened species in its by-catch and deplete fish stocks. Fisheries authorities on the other hand have dismissed concerns about over-fishing, saying the trawler would be allowed to catch just 10 percent of available fish and would have little, if any, impact on the broader eco-system.

The battle over this issue looks set to continue in the courts as statements from the operators of the trawler indicate - "If the government thinks we'll just walk away, they are wrong," (Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Green in a statement to the ABC).

Read more on this topic.

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