EDITORIAL | Recycling surplus fishing boats

The past decade’s massive attrition in the Australian and New Zealand fishing industry has resulted in some seven thousand surplus commercial fishing boats.

Thanks to equal measures of clever green lobbying and bureaucratic bastardry in both countries, around seventy percent of the boats that were active in the nineties have no possibility of further commercial fishing activity.

Obviously, a lot of those boats were elderly, soggy, expensive to maintain or too specialised to have any other potential use. There are, however, a significant number of them that can readily be adapted to a host of other potential activities.

Many of the fast lobster boats, tuna catchers and trawlers built in the eighties and nineties have been well built and well maintained and are versatile. While most wooden boats are only fit for museums or bonfires, their steel, aluminium or FRP hulled sisters are usually readily converted to other uses.

Even some more recently built wooden boats have found a niche market as family cruisers or house boats. Unfortunately, their commercial potential is limited.

Some boats require very little conversion effort. Reasonably young, large twin-engined aluminium lobster boats have found a ready market in the offshore oil and gas industry. If the boat is given the nod by the main players off the north-west coast such as Woodside, Shell or Chevron it quickly gains a new lease on life. Indeed, some such cray boats of around 20 metres LOA are selling for significantly more than their new price even if they are more than ten years old.

The offshore oil and gas and mineral port development industries have a presently insatiable demand for a whole range of work boats. Over the past couple of years we have published articles describing the conversion or re-cycling of lobster catchers and carrier boats into offshore service vessels. We will see more of them.

A pioneer in that field has been John Fitzhardinge Jnr, a former lobster fisherman, ship builder and, currently principal of Southerly Designs. As well as his handy fleet of ex fishing boat OSVs, he has converted his faithful personal lobster boat ‘Hero’ into a very desirable family cruiser. It will be reviewed in Ausmarine shortly.

As well as the FRP and aluminium construction of fast lobster boats, the strong steel hulls of prawn trawlers and tuna boats lend themselves to conversion to OSVs, general work boats and coastal construction vessels. They usually have significant pulling power and considerable refrigerated hold capacity that improves their versatility.

Many fishing boats too, particularly, the faster ones, have great potential as tourist and dive charter boats as well as patrol and rescue boats. In most cases conversion costs are minimal and, in any case, combined with the second hand price of the boat, far less than a new boat of similar capacity.

The pleasure boat market would seem to have just as much potential for re-cycled fishing boats as the commercial one. Most fishing boats are strong and reliable. They ride well and are seaworthy. They can also be reasonably economical to run. Certainly much more so than many of the horrible, tail-dragging leisure boats available on the market today.

Conversion to leisure use will usually be more complex and expensive than to commercial. The quantum of this, of course, depends on how carried away the new owner becomes. Given that a simple boat is usually a better and more usable boat, it will usually be more frequently used. It will provide much more fun for the dollar invested.

Having followed our “Boats for Sale” classified ads for some time, I was pleased to see Mike Brown’s profile of Oceaneer Marine Brokers in this issue. It pretty much encapsulates what I have said here and provide further concrete examples of actual cases.

There certainly is life after death for some fishing boats providing they are not elderly, wooden or too specialised.


Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.