Trawler awaits fresh advice

FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke is still investigating whether he can stop the latest attempt to use a super trawler in Australian waters.

Mr Burke said yesterday he was still awaiting advice from his department on a plan from Seafish Tasmania to use the Abel Tasman as "a mother ship" that a fleet of smaller vessels will use to store catch.

The company announced the plan after Mr Burke stopped the super trawler from fishing due to concerns over depletion of specific fish species.

"On the face of it, many of the environmental issues that we were dealing with a few months ago still arise in this new proposal," Mr Burke said.

"What I have asked my department to do is to prepare fresh advice on the two legal questions that they will have to answer.

"The first question is: is it a new fishing activity? The second question is: is there uncertainty as to the environmental impact?

"I have written today to the company and made clear to them that, depending on that advice which I will not pre-judge, I absolutely reserve the right to make further declarations in respect of any different ideas or uses for the vessel that come up.

"The tests will be the same as they were last time ... (and) if those tests are met, then a new declaration would go ahead and that would mean that we had a situation where activities of that nature were illegal, while the scientific work was carried out."

Denison MHR Andrew Wilkie, who asked Mr Burke about the new plan during federal parliament's Question Time, welcomed the response.

"(The) comments by the minister give me heart that the super trawler (formerly named the FV Margiris) will continue to be denied permission to operate in Australian waters for the foreseeable future," he said.

An expert panel set up to assess the environmental impacts of the super trawler before it is allowed to fish, or is permanently banned, will be chaired by Mary Lack, who has more than 25 years of experience in fisheries management.

The panel is due to report back in October next year.

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