One of the greatest enemies of the oceans, the super trawler, is set to be permanently banned from Australian waters.
Super trawlers are massive ships—well over 100 meters long—that decimate fisheries by scooping up tens of thousands of fish at a time. Many of them even carry large-scale processing units and freezers, enabling them to stay at sea for weeks on end. If you’re looking for one of the key villains behind the fact that most of the world’s fisheries are in decline, look no further than super trawlers.
Beyond the vast numbers of fish they kill, the giant nets these ships drag on sea floors permanently damage fragile ecosystems. In fact, the impact these ships have on ocean floors is frequently compared to plowing virgin land.
By any sensible standard, the construction of these ships amounts to an environmental crime. But by pillaging the oceans to an unprecedented degree, these ships clearly generate enormous profits for their owners. And money has a way of subverting the political process, particularly where laws protecting the environment are concerned. Just like the meat industry is able to get many of the seats at the table where regulations over meat safety are set, the fishing industry likewise wields considerable influence among governments whose waters hold the most valuable fisheries. All too often, the industry pushes to maximize profits by opposing catch limits, even though this shortsightedness can destroy a given fishery’s long-term viability. One of the starkest examples of this occurred in Newfoundland during the 1980s and 1990s, when fishing groups delayed the government from issuing a moratorium against fishing despite a collapsing codfish population. The waters off Newfoundland, which were formerly one of the most abundant habitats for codfish in the world, have never recovered—and the ecosystem has changed to favor lobster rather than cod.
But this week, Australia has given us a glimmer of hope that sanity can win out over greed. Every political movement, including the animal rights and conservation movements, is based on precedent. Now that Australia has taken the lead by permanently banning super trawlers, it’ll be far easier for other countries to follow suit.