The 9,500-tonne FV Margiris repelled Greenpeace protesters to dock at Port Lincoln in South Australia last Thursday for re-flagging as an Australian vessel before its proposed deployment to Tasmania for bait-fishing.
Environment Minister Tony Burke sought legal advice about whether he could intervene over concerns that dolphins and other marine life would inadvertently get swept up in its huge nets.
But he said he had been told he does not have the power to block it fishing in Australian waters.
“Under national environmental law I don’t have the power to block it altogether,” he told ABC television, but said the trawler’s operators would have to prove they were doing everything necessary to minimise by-catch.
“What I do have is the legal power to impose a number of restrictions on it based on the impact it can have, not on the fish that it’s targeting, but on the by-catch — the seals, the dolphins, the fish that are protected and listed and I have responsibility for,” Burke said.
“The big vessel will have to fish within the rules so that the impact it has on the environment is no more than if it was fishing on a small vessel,” he added.
Under conditions imposed by the government, fishing will have to be suspended if a dolphin dies in the ship’s nets or if three or more seals perish. It will also be banned from sea lion hunting grounds.