Super trawler, Super bad?

Over the past week there has been a lot of media attention thrown at the imminent arrival of a super trawler in Australian waters. It seems that there is strong objection from a lot of the population but objections are far from unanimous. So, what are the issues surrounding super trawlers? Well, it depends on your point of view:
1. Bycatch.

Bycatch, or non-target species caught in the nets, is an issue with trawlers – all trawlers. The size of the nets on super trawlers will mean that there is a large amount of bycatch (e.g. dolphins, turtles, sea birds) regardless of devices designed to limit bycatch being placed in the nets. This is sad and wasteful, but an issue with all trawling activities.

As an aside, I personally don’t believe that the use of the term “gently” with reference to these excluder devices
(“excluder device inside the net guides the animals gently up to an escape hatch on the top panel on the net” – see the article on ABC news for the full quote)

2. Jobs.

If I were the owner of a smaller trawler, I wouldn’t like to be sharing my fishery with this boat. Hundreds of fishermen around the world have been put out of business by big boats and collapsing fisheries……

3. Overfishing.

This is an interesting one. TECHNICALLY, if an effective quota system is in place on this fishery then the addition of this super trawler will not increase the likelihood of over fishing. However, I think this is the main issue in the debate. If you look at global fisheries, the vast majority are either fully or over exploited already. A lot are in an unarrested free-fall. Why? Because we’ve become way too good at catching fish. Our current level of technology means that if we don’t have accurate assessments of fish stocks, and believe me this is a supremely difficult task (so all credit to the people who have to figure it out), then we have the industrial power to over fish a stock before we even know it’s happening. In my mind, this is the real issue with such large boats.

But, this also brings me back to one of the issues I have with the way that society currently looks at problems. If you break something, or there is too little of what you want, don’t change what you’re doing just engineer a better way. With fishing that means bigger, more efficient boats. With climate change, it means geoengineering or carbon mitigation. But, why capture carbon dioxide through a chemical reaction and inject it deep into the ocean rather than switching to non-carbon based sources of fuel? At best you’re buying time to make appropriate changes, at worst you’re creating a false sense of security that will lead to disaster.

Are we risking the same choice with the super trawler?

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