Shrugging off Greenpeace protesters like a dog shaking off a bad case of fleas, the Dutch-built super-trawler FV Margiris has been cleared to begin fishing in Australian waters off the coast of Tasmania.

The massive super-trawler docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia last Thursday, August 30th, despite a typically noisy “welcome” by Greenpeace protesters in Zodiac speedboats.

The wet-suited environmentalists hoisted bright yellow banners reading “NO SUPER TRAWLERS,” reflecting long-held concerns by both conservation groups and local fishermen over the impact these huge fishing ships could have on the environment.

The trawler is owned and operated by Seafish Tasmania and is expected to begin bait-fishing off the coast of the Australian island-state shortly. Its appearance on the scene has put Australia's government between a rock and a hard place, risking the nation's hard-earned reputation as a champion of environmental protection.

One doesn't need to wonder what Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society thinks of the new super-trawler... and what actions his fleet of anti-whaling ships might take to frustrate its activities. Australia previously gave tacit support to Watson in his long-running battles with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Faced with a domestic environmental “evil-doer” and with Watson in hiding from an Interpol warrant for his arrest, it appears the government has chosen to hide behind its own rules and regulations. “Under national environmental law I don't have the power to block it altogether,” explained Environment Minister Tony Burke to ABC television. “The big vessel will have to fish within the rules,” added Burke, “so that the impact it has on the environment is no more than if it was fishing on a small vessel.”

That may be easier said than done. The 9,500-ton, 143-meter (469 ft) long FV Margiris possesses fish-catching capabilities far beyond small vessels and to put it  plainly, buying a big boat to do a small boat's job is just bad business.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority for its part has dismissed the chorus of concerns about over-fishing, however, stating the trawler would not be permitted to catch more than 10 percent of the available fish and has assured skeptics its operations will have “little if any impact on the broader eco-system.” Well isn't that just... super. (via Japan Today, Tasmanian Times, and Greenpeace Australia Pacific)

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