Netherlands raises trawler ban with EU

The Abel Tasman supertrawler.
The Abel Tasman supertrawler.

THE Dutch government has raised its concerns about the last-minute ban on the controversial Abel Tasman supertrawler with the European Union, potentially inflaming the international backlash against the decision.

The escalation came as the Gillard government squeezed its legislation banning the Dutch-owned vessel through the Lower House, though changes demanded by cross-bench MPs narrowed the future powers of the government to act against other fishing activities deemed risky.

And the operator of the ship, Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Geen, said the firm had been punished for being too open and transparent about its intentions, giving time for opponents of the super trawler to mobilise.

Dutch deputy head of mission Nico Schermers told The Age yesterday he had raised his government's concerns about the supertrawler ban at a meeting of EU countries.

''For the long run this might have implications for foreign direct investment and this morning I spoke to the colleagues of the European Union about that,'' he said.

''And I certainly got strong support from the colleagues over there, because we all see that if the Australian government is changing the rules at the last minute, foreign direct investment might be endangered.

''They share our concerns about this.''

Andrea Nicolaj, first counsellor at the delegation of the European Union to Australia said the meeting of senior diplomats had ''listened with great interest to the presentation from the Dutch colleague''.

The meeting followed a phone conversation on Tuesday night in which Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen raised concerns with Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig.

Mr Schermers said the Dutch government ''hope that decisions are taken on the basis of facts and not images and feelings … and we hope that the previously made agreements will be respected''.

Senator Ludwig and Environment Minister Tony Burke announced on Tuesday that they would seek to impose a two-year ban on the Abel Tasman's fishing in Australian waters while further scientific work can be carried out on its environmental impact.

Mr Burke has said he is concerned that the 142-metre trawler, which can stay at sea for weeks without having to return to port, could accidentally net unacceptable numbers of protected species such as dolphins, seals and seabirds. The government also announced a ''root and branch'' review of the Fisheries Management Act amid concerns about the 18,000-tonne quota awarded to Seafish Tasmania for the super trawler.

Mr Geen said: ''I think anyone would have to think very hard about investing in Australia, particularly about being as open and transparent and open as we've been. We gave the green groups so much notice of our intentions. It certainly gave them an opportunity to get organised.''

This story Netherlands raises trawler ban with EU first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.