The FV Margiris dwarfs anything in the Australian fishing fleet and looks nothing like a traditional fishing vessel. At 142 metres long and with a cargo capacity of approximately 6,200 tonnes, it is a stark example of modern fisheries and is far removed from the traditional 'John West' image of the family fishing boat setting out to sea at sunrise to catch the family's meal.
This is no cute fishing boat. It is a massive refrigerated factory vessel with a bridge at the front and a large net out the back to feed its floating processing factory.
The vessel is so large that it must catch somewhere over 16,000 tonnes of fish in the small pelagic fishery to just cover its costs. This is equal to approximately half of the entire total allowable catch for the small pelagic fishery.
If the owners are able to purchase or lease sufficient licences, it is entirely plausible that this one vessel could catch the full quota for the entire small pelagic fishery - from Western Australia to Queensland. It's a big ship.
While there is considerable concern at the potential impact on local ecosystems and smaller fishing fleets, the real issue at the heart of the controversy is the sheer capacity of the vessel and its global nature.
The vessel symbolises all that is wrong with global fisheries and the failure of the global community to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet. For decades, the global fishing community has known that there are simply too many vessels catching too few fish.
The United Nations even came together in the 1990s and negotiated an International Plan of Action to Manage Fishing Capacity, progressively reducing the size of the fishing fleets to more sustainable levels. However, this has failed to have any significant impact.
In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reported that global marine catches were in decline, with increased percentages of global fish stocks identified as over-exploited.
The FAO found that the state of world marine fisheries was worsening and this was having a negative impact on fisheries production. For years, concerned states have noted that current levels of fishing are unsustainable and "... leading inexorably to an impending crisis for global marine fisheries".
Australia has been a strong proponent for global action to reduce the over-capacity of the global fishing fleet and the implementation of strong conservation measures. For much of the past 20 years, Australian government delegations have actively worked inside the United Nations and regional institutions to develop strong management frameworks and pressure distant water fishing nations to reduce their capacity. In some regions, Australia has supported measures that require states to limit their fishing capacity through removing an old vessel for every new vessel added to their fleet.
Australian bureaucrats and ministers from both sides of politics deserve recognition for their global vision and pro-active initiatives over the past two decades to ensure the long term sustainability of the world's fisheries.
And along comes the FV Margiris. Yet another example of the European Union's solution to over-capacity - swept under the rug of a foreign joint venture. Australian conservation initiatives on the global stage are now to be tested in our own waters. How will Australia implement its commitments to the International Plan of Action on Capacity?
How will Australia regulate to reduce the capacity of its national fishing fleet sufficient to make room for one of the world's largest fishing vessel? Who shall pay?
And this really is the core issue for international fisheries conservation and management. Who shall pay?
Given current levels of overfishing in fisheries all around the world, conservation measures are required that reduce catches. Such conservation measures will distribute a burden of conservation reductions on some or all states. Depending upon their structure, conservation measures will impact directly and indirectly on various participants: reducing benefits for some; limiting opportunities for others; and protecting or even increasing benefits for some participants.
Negotiations for conservation have to balance diverse interests and come to an agreement over how these interests are compromised. Despite this, international fisheries agreements do not transparently study the likely distribution of the conservation burden that would arise from each potential management option. Instead, they address deeply political and economic arguments within a scientific framework.
These frameworks then become politicized as members favour scientific assessments for measures that best protect their own interests, and refute scientific assessments for measures that compromise their interests.
Until the international community negotiates a fair and transparent approach to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet, the world's fisheries will continue to decline - trawled into oblivion by behemoths like the FV Margiris.
source: abc.net.au - QUENTIN HANICH