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The dirty business of illegal fishing

8 Nov 2018

Illegal fishers have tried a number of measures over the years to outsmart NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries Officers by concealing their ill-gotten catch within everyday items, however, fisheries officers are as inquisitive as illegal fishers are ingenious having foiled even the most elaborate attempts at subterfuge.

Fisheries Officers have uncovered illegal catch in purpose-built compartments, under screwed-down deck panels, inside double-bottomed buckets and buried deep in the sand under a beach angler’s feet.

DPI Director of Fisheries Compliance, Patrick Tully, said a new low was recently discovered when an illegal catch was found in a portable toilet at a campsite adjacent to the Trout Cod Protection Area (TCPA), between Yarrawonga and Tocumwal on the Murray River.

“This is not the first time officers have sniffed out an illegal haul,” Mr Tully said.

“After noticing a disproportionally strong smell of fish and irregularities in the floor fasteners on a boat at a ramp on Botany Bay, Fisheries Officers found a concealed compartment containing a whopping 159.77kg of prized Gemfish.

“A Sydney man pleaded guilty for possessing the hidden fish in Sutherland Local Court in September 2018. He was fined $8,000 for exceeding the bag limit and given an additional monetary penalty of $5,000 for committing an offence involving a priority species of fish (Gemfish is a priority species and has a bag limit of two per day).”

This conviction followed the conviction of two other Sydney men at the Downing Centre in September 2017 for illegally possessing over 250kg of deep-sea fish species, receiving $20,000 in fines.

“DPI Fisheries have been reviewing their data from the 2017-18 financial year and it quite revealing how much illegal fishers think they can get away with, but don’t,” Mr Tully said.

“Over 50,000 people were checked for their fishing activities and more than 6,000 were found offending, mostly along the coast.

“In the last financial year, we have seized 2,470 items of fishing gear and equipment.

“A total of 3,049 reports on illegal fishing were made to DPI through its Fishers Watch system which often leads to immediate apprehensions or intelligence about illegal fishing.”

In 2017-18, Fisheries Officers also seized over 48,000 fish and invertebrates including:

  • More than 30,000 cockles, whelks, snails and oysters,
  • Over 2,500 abalone,
  • 1,093 mud and blue swimmer crabs,
  • 564 yellowfin bream,
  • 501 snapper,
  • 332 sand whiting, and
  • 308 rock lobsters

The highest penalties ever registered for fisheries offences in NSW were recorded last December with two men receiving gaol sentences, one suspended and over $2 million in fines, penalties, costs, and forfeitures awarded against three men and two businesses in Wollongong for illegally dealing in lobsters.

“Most recently, we’ve seen a repeat offender in Smiths Lake convicted in Forster Local Court for unlawfully taking a haul of blue swimmers crabs and a yellowfin bream,” Mr Tully said.

“He was sentenced to six months imprisonment for unlawful use of a net and eight months imprisonment for possessing prohibited size fish to be served under intensive corrections order for 200 hours of supervised community service.”

DPI Fisheries was further awarded $3,880 in professional costs.

Another commercial Fisher from South West Rocks fined a total of $6,600 for failing to submit mandatory catch and fishing effort records.

DPI Director of Fisheries Compliance, Patrick Tully, said the vast majority of fishers do the right thing, however for those that don’t this should serve that the NSW Government and the courts take illegal fishing very seriously.

“From the ocean floor to the restaurant door, from Waterloo to the port-a-loo, NSW Fisheries Officers are highly skilled at detecting offences no matter what lengths people will go to,” Mr Tully said.

“Stopping illegal fishing activities and protecting the State’s fish habitats is crucial to ensuring we conserve this popular outdoor recreational activity for generations to come.”

Anyone with information on suspected illegal fishing activity is urged to contact their local DPI Fisheries office, call the Fisher Watch phone line on 1800 043 536 or report illegal fishing activities online. For more information visit the DPI website.

Media contact: Leesa Ronald 0447 510 397