Seafish Tasmania seeks 'fair go' on trawler

SEAFISH Tasmania is demanding a "fair go" from the federal government, which has rejected its proposal to use its super trawler on a limited basis and imposed the maximum two-year ban on the vessel.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke announced yesterday that he would use powers granted under new laws rushed through Parliament in September to stop the Abel Tasman, formerly called the FV Margiris, from fishing in Australian waters for two years.

The move may spark legal action from Seafish Tasmania, which has spent millions of dollars bringing the 142-metre vessel to Australia.

Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Geen demanded that Mr Burke specify what size of boat could be used.

"We followed all (the Australian Fisheries Management Authority) rules and regulations and were given the green light to use a large-scale factory freezer trawler in the fishery," Mr Geen said. "But then at the last minute the Australian government pulled the rug.

"Both Minister Burke and the Australian government have told us what we can't do - we want them to tell us what we can do."

However, Mr Burke said the government was on strong legal ground.

"Under environmental law it is not uncommon for a project to be held up while checks are being performed," Mr Burke said.

During the 60-day interim ban, which would have ended yesterday, consultation was carried out and confirmed that there was too much uncertainty about the factory vessel's potential impact, he said.

He was not prepared to negotiate with Seafish Tasmania, which had proposed operating under extra conditions including using only half of the freezer storage capacity.

"I didn't think it was appropriate at all to be engaging in some direct negotiation back and forth across the table," Mr Burke said.

"The question for me was: were we or were we not dealing with environmental uncertainty?"

Confirmation of the ban followed a huge public outcry and a campaign to stop the boat, led by Tasmanian recreational fishers.

Tuna Club of Tasmania vice-president Martin Haley welcomed the ban's extension.

"There were a lot of unanswered questions. We have never had this industrial type of fishing here in Australia," Mr Haley said.

An expert panel will be set up to assess the potential impact of large-scale trawlers.

It is unclear what will happen to the vessel, which has been docked at Port Lincoln since it arrived two months ago.

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