Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has warned he could use his powers to ban a controversial super-trawler if it poses a big enough risk to dolphins and other marine life.
Responsibility for the FV Margiris rests with Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig but Mr Burke says he could override a decision if scientific advice points to a major environmental impact.
Mr Burke is concerned about the 142-metre factory ship's by-catch, particularly dolphins, sea lions and sea birds such as albatrosses.
"As with anything that hits what are called matters of national environmental significance ... there are powers of intervention that rest with the environment minister," he told ABC radio.
AdvertisementMr Burke said after meeting the ship's operators, Seafish Tasmania, on Tuesday he was still "some distance" from having enough information to make a call on whether his powers under the Environment Act would come into play.
"They have methods in place to try and minimise getting any by-catch," he said.
"But whether those methods go far enough to meet the satisfaction of the areas that I'm charged with protecting is something that I'm getting answers on."
Mr Burke said that could result in anything from "a clean bill of health" for the ship to "some very serious barriers".
Seafish director Gerry Geen said 12 months of research using underwater video cameras had resulted in safer nets.
"We had cameras inside the net to study the behaviour of marine mammals so we could design an exclusion device that would safely guide them to an exit from the net," he said.
Mr Burke said he accepted the science behind Seafish's quota of 18,000 tonnes of small pelagic fish but needed to know more because a super-trawler had not been used to catch it before.
His comments came as the Greens took the debate to the Senate and state parliaments in Tasmania and Western Australia.
In the Tasmanian lower house, the Greens secured support from their power-sharing partners Labor and from the opposition Liberals in opposing the Margiris operating in the state's waters.
West Australian Greens appealed to the state's fisheries minister Norman Moore, who expressed his concern in parliament.
"I think he should be making a very strong protest to the Commonwealth authorities and appeal against (the trawler) getting an Australian licence to fish here," Greens leader Giz Watson said.
Elsewhere, environmental group Greenpeace said the trawler's Dutch owners Parlevliet and Van der Plas had been subsidised by the European Union to the tune of $46 million since 1994 and another $33.5 million indirectly since 2006.
Seafish's Mr Geen said critics should realise the export of small pelagic fish not wanted by Australian consumers to Africa would help feed populations in the developing world.
"It is not a rich man's food," he said.
"It is high in protein, something sorely needed in Africa."
Mr Moore said he would be writing to Mr Burke "seeking his assurances the trawler will not adversely affect our fisheries".