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Fishermen fined ,000 after illegal stash discovered during undercover investigation

Fishermen fined $16,000 after illegal stash discovered during undercover investigation

Fishermen fined ,000 after illegal stash discovered during undercover investigation

Two Australian fishermen have been fined nearly $16,000 after their illegal stash hidden in coastal bushland was discovered.

Inside a handful of blue tubs, fisheries officers found hundreds of metres of fishing nets, equipment banned on the western side of Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay to free up more catches for recreational fishers. Commercial fishermen who used them were given financial compensation after being forced to switch to longlines in 2022.

But two commercial fishermen aged 43 and 78 hatched a plan to continue using nets secretly to catch snapper, rubbery sharks and sea bream in the bay. The haul was then laundered at a wholesale fish market.

A map of Port Phillip Bay with a red circle around where Point Wilson is.A map of Port Phillip Bay with a red circle around where Point Wilson is.

The men set their nets along the coast at Point Wilson, west of Melbourne. Source: Google Earth, Landsat, Copernicus, Data SIO, NOAA

For six months, the father-and-son commercial fishing team from Altona Meadows were unaware they were the subject of an undercover investigation by the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA).

“We had surveillance cameras in place until we finally got good enough photos to be able to identify which vessel it was, and this led us to identify the fishermen involved,” VFA enforcement director Ian Parks told Yahoo News.

The illegal activity was documented around Point Wilson, near Melbourne’s Avalon Airport, and the internationally recognised Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site, which has six distinct wetland areas.

The VFA observed the men travelling “dangerously” without visible navigation lights at night. The pair were licensed to fish with lines, but after their vessel was launched, they would secretly collect nets hidden along the remote shoreline, catch fish and then store the nets before returning to the boat ramp.

A shed at VFA's Queenscliff depot with two trucks inside in the distance. Around 844 metres of seized nets are strewn on the ground.A shed at VFA's Queenscliff depot with two trucks inside in the distance. Around 844 metres of seized nets are strewn on the ground.

Some 844 metres of nets were collected and taken to the VFA offices in Queenscliff. Source: VFA

After gathering evidence of the crime, officers arrested them in November 2023, seizing around 844 metres of netting and the commercial fishing vessel used to commit the crimes.

On Friday, the men pleaded guilty to charges including unauthorized use of commercial fishing equipment, illegal sale of fish and trafficking in the proceeds of crime. The younger of the two was fined $10,300, while the older was ordered to pay $5,500.

Following the conviction, VFA is reviewing whether the men could still be considered “fit and proper” persons to hold commercial fishing licences.

Parks believes most commercial fishermen are doing the right thing and that the illegal activity his team uncovered is “unfortunate and unusual.” He hopes the conviction and fines will serve as a warning to those who think the rules don’t apply to them.

“The chances of getting caught are very high. Not only do we have fisheries officers patrolling at all hours of the day or night to detect this activity, but we also have a large community that is vigilant all the time,” he said.

“There is always someone watching you. It could be the person in the boat next to you.”

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