LOCAL courts have continued their tough stance on abalone theft by handing out jail time and hefty fines in two recent cases on the NSW South Coast, Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Acting Director of Fisheries Compliance, Tony Andrews said today.
Mr Andrews said the largest of penalties was handed down by Narooma Local Court to two men after they were caught stealing abalone and lobsters by fisheries officers north of Bermagui in October 2013.
“The two men aged 29 and 22 both from Bermagui, were observed by fisheries officers diving in waters and then shuck a large quantity of abalone,” Mr Andrews said.
“Fisheries officers intercepted the men and located a bag hidden along the beach access track containing 69 shucked abalone and one prohibited size Eastern rock lobster. In addition, a number of freshly shucked prohibited size abalone shells were found.
“Both men pleaded guilty before Narooma Local Court to a range of offences including joint possession of prohibited size Eastern rock lobster, joint possession of prohibited size abalone, shuck abalone adjacent to waters and failure to pay the recreational fishing fee.
“The 29 year old man faced an additional offence of providing false information and breaching a current five year prohibition order in place from previous convictions which prevents him from taking or being in the possession of more than two abalone.
“The 29 year old man was sentenced to a total of 20 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $2,500 in fines, while the 22 year old man was sentenced to a two year good behaviour bond and ordered to pay $8,200 in fines.”
Mr Andrews said in another matter two illegal abalone fishers have been fined a total of $20,000 after a significant quantity of abalone was seized by DPI fisheries officers in February this year.
“Following a period of surveillance fisheries officers intercepted two Sydney men, aged 50 and 51, heading home after a weekend at Kioloa,” Mr Andrews said.
“The men were found to be in possession of 379 abalone, of which 372 were prohibited size.
“Both men failed to attend Milton Local Court where they each faced two aggravated charges, one for the possession of more than the maximum quantity of fish and the second for the possession of prohibited sized fish.
“They were both convicted and each received a fine of $10,000, demonstrating that abalone thieves will face heavy penalties when they are caught.”
Mr Andrews said fisheries officers in the south of the state will continue to target abalone theft.
“Officers will conduct both overt and covert operations, utilising the latest technology to detect and apprehend abalone thieves,” Mr Andrews said.
“Persons selling illegal abalone should also beware, because fisheries officers conduct targeted inspections on persons or businesses involved in the illegal sale of abalone.
“Bag and size limits for abalone are in place for a reason, to protect the precious abalone resource in NSW.”
Anyone who suspects illegal fishing is urged to contact the Fishers Watch phone line on 1800 043 536 or online through the DPI website at www.fisheries.nsw.gov.au
Abalone – key facts
The minimum size for abalone in NSW is 11.7cm, measured at the widest point of the shell.
There is a possession limit of two abalone per person.
There are special restrictions on recreational abalone fishing in the waters between Port Stephens and Jervis Bay. Abalone can only be taken from these waters on a weekend and any public holiday that adjoins a weekend. All other times it is prohibited for recreational divers to take abalone from these waters.
Abalone are commercially harvested from rocky reefs by divers typically using surface-supplied air or scuba.
Most commercial abalone fishing takes place on the south coast of NSW, primarily from Jervis Bay to the Victorian border. The commercial fishery is subject to strict quotas to ensure the sustainability of the resource.
Commercial fishing for abalone began in the early 1960s. The number of divers has been reduced progressively to address excessive fishing and increase viability. Individual catch quotas were introduced in 1989.