THE controversial FV Abel Tasman super trawler faces a two-year ban on fishing in Australian waters under planned changes to environmental law that have been hailed by recreational fishermen but will cost dozens of jobs.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said yesterday that more scientific work needed to be done to deal with concerns about the effect of the 142-metre trawler formerly known as the FV Margiris on dolphins, seals and seabirds.
Green groups and recreational fishermen welcomed the news. But the ship's local operator, Seafish Tasmania, said it would have to lay off 50 local workers.
The firm did not rule out legal action and said it had made no contingency plans for the ship, which is docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia.
Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig said the federal government would also carry out a "root and branch review" of fisheries management law in response to concerns about the 18,000-tonne fish quota given by fisheries authorities to Seafish Tasmania for the trawler.
Mr Burke said his concerns centred on the fact that, unlike smaller fishing boats, such a large factory ship with onboard processing and freezing facilities could fish for prolonged periods in the same area.
This raised the danger of creating a "localised major bycatch issue" in which an unacceptable number of protected species such as dolphins could be caught by accident in the net in a single area of the ocean.
"When you have a vessel with a large freezer capacity, that therefore is able to remain for extended periods of time in the same part of our oceans, there are a different set of environmental considerations and that's the difference," he said.
However, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which had previously approved the quota, told The Age just last month that "there is no evidence to suggest that larger boats pose any greater risk to either the target species or the ecosystem".
In fact, the authority said that large boats with freezing capacity such as the Abel Tasman were less likely to cause localised depletion of fish stocks because they could range further from onshore processing facilities.
Gerry Geen, director of Seafish Tasmania, did not rule out legal action. But he added: "We haven't got that far yet."
He could not say what would happen to the ship in the immediate future.
"We didn't have any contingency plans because we thought we were going to be fishing legally in Australian waters," he said.
Mark Nikolai, of the Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing, said the ministers had "done exactly what the recreational fishing sector has asked to be done".
John Burgess, vice-president of the Australian National Sport Fishing Association said: "On behalf of all the recreational groups we represent, both those ministers have our eternal thanks for showing the gumption to respond to this the way they did."