Taxpayers face a hefty compensation bill after controversial supertrawler Abel Tasman was slapped with a two-year ban in Australian waters.
Despite fisheries officials saying bigger boats posed no bigger risk to marine ecosystems than smaller ones, the Government reacted to pressure from Labor backbenchers, environmentalists and some fishing groups.
Environment Minister Tony Burke yesterday rushed legislation into Parliament that would require fishing vessels with a storage capacity of 6000 tonnes to undergo a two-year scientific assessment for their impact on fish stocks and sea life before being allowed to fish.
The 142m Abel Tasman - formerly the Margiris - is the only fishing vessel in Australia that fits this criterion.
Its owner, Seafish Tasmania, has sought approval for seven years and was days away from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority allowing it to begin fishing for 18,000 tonnes of mackerel and redbait in an area spanning from south-west WA around Tasmania and up to Queensland.
AFMA has said on its website there was "no reason to single out this boat", saying bigger boats were more efficient and the net was not even the biggest net among Australia's current fishing fleet.
Last week Mr Burke imposed tough conditions to minimise the risk of dolphins, seals and birds being caught in its nets. But Mr Burke said yesterday the Abel Tasman's ability to fish in the same place for a long time remained his biggest concern and there should be further scientific studies of its impact.
He conceded yesterday that if the scientific review was favourable, the supertrawler could still operate in Australia.
WA Labor MP Melissa Parke, who had threatened to move a private member's Bill banning supertrawlers in Australian waters, praised the decision.
But it angered some Tasmanian Labor MPs, with Dick Adams telling caucus the decision was politically motivated and not based on science.Shadow fisheries minister Richard Colbeck said having a bigger factory ship allowed fish to be frozen immediately, preserving its quality, and reduced the amount of bycatch such as dolphins.
Mr Burke said it would be up to the courts to decide whether Seafish got compensation.
Seafish director Gerry Geen said the company was considering its options and warned it would have to sack 50 workers.