THIRTY Vietnamese foreign fishers from two separate vessels pleaded guilty and were convicted for breaking Australian fisheries and environmental laws in Darwin Magistrates’ Court after being caught illegally fishing in waters off north Queensland.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority conducted an investigation into the actions of the foreign fishers that resulted in the successful convictions of all crew from the vessels. Penalties included suspended jail sentences ranging from two months for the crew members to five and seven months for the masters of the vessels. In addition to suspended sentences, good-behaviour bonds ranging from two to three years were put in place with recognizance of $1000 for each of the crew members and $2000 for both of the masters.
The two fishing vessels operated by the convicted illegal foreign fishers have been confiscated by AFMA and destroyed in Cairns. The Vietnamese vessels were originally spotted on May 31, 2016 by an Australian Border Force surveillance aircraft in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve sanctuary zone of Lihou Reef, 600km east of Cairns, Queensland.
Maritime Border Command within the ABF made the apprehensions, in co-operation with AFMA, the Australian Defence Force and Parks Australia on June 2, 2016. During the initial inspections officers found diving gear to support more than 10 divers in the water at once and approximately six tonnes of bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber). AFMA’s general manager of operations Mr Peter Venslovas said these convictions demonstrate that Australia takes illegal fishing seriously.
“Illegal fishing threatens the economic viability and sustainability of Australia’s well managed marine resources,” Mr Venslovas said. “The convictions and destruction of the vessels are a good result and will send a very strong message to all those considering illegally fishing in Australian waters.”
Acting commander MBC, Stephen Alexander, welcomed the outcome and commended the joint efforts of those involved. “These apprehensions are a great example of Australian Government agencies working together to combat illegal fishing in our waters,” acting commander Alexander said. “The ABF, along with its partner agencies, will be resolute in stopping illicit activities in Australian waters. Maritime Border Command remains vigilant and continues to work with our partner agencies to respond to all illegal activities throughout the Australian Fishing Zone.”
Parks Australia head of Marine Protected Areas Jason Mundy said Lihou Reef had been a sanctuary since 1982. “It is a pristine reef ecosystem of national significance, a very special place,” Mr Mundy said. “Illegal activities such as fishing threaten to deny current and future generations the opportunity to experience these natural assets. This response will help to deter others from such illegal activity. Parks Australia welcomes the convictions and will continue to pursue action against those who undermine the protection and conservation of Australia’s marine reserves.”
More information on how Australia is working to combat illegal fishing can be found at afma.gov.au