WITH the winter abalone dive season underway, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) fisheries officers have been out in force, using modern surveillance methods to target illegal abalone trafficking.
Operation Gascoyne recently targeted abalone poachers diving off Dalmeny, just north of Narooma.
The offenders allegedly employed sophisticated counter surveillance techniques of the area day and night, to check if they were being watched.
Among those arrested was a 25-year-old Dalmeny man who along with his accomplice allegedly stashed abalone in a hessian bag in the water, returning to the water at night to collect it under the cover of darkness.
DPI alleged the hessian bag with abalone was concealed in nearby scrub by the offenders while they conducted further counter surveillance.
DPI fisheries officers and police apprehended the offenders shortly afterwards. The 70 abalone were seized and returned to the water alive.
The two men were arrested and transported to Narooma Police Station where they were charged with abalone offences.
They were released on bail and appeared at Narooma Local Court on March 7.
The 25 year-old man from Dalmeny NSW, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, with a minimum of seven months non-parole.
DPI director of fisheries compliance Glenn Tritton said abalone thieves face significant penalties including prison sentences if they are caught.
“Fisheries officers will be out in force, working with NSW Police, targeting potential thieves from the sea to the seafood outlets across the state,” Mr Tritton said.
“We know abalone thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they operate, using a range of techniques to avoid apprehension to illegally take this valuable resource.”
“This winter fisheries officers are using covert surveillance, utilising the latest technology to apprehend anyone involved in abalone theft, and we’ll be stepping up our targeted inspections in the marketplace where abalone is sold.”
Mr Tritton said recent convictions for abalone trafficking as well as a number successful surveillance operations were helping drive down illegal activity.
Legislation introduced in 2010 has also helped with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for anyone convicted for trafficking abalone.
“We’ve had some good results already this year in catching abalone thieves, including the sentencing of two men to prison, following Operation Gascoyne, which targeted an illegal abalone syndicate operating on the South Coast,” Mr Tritton said.
“Fisheries officers also blitzed restaurants, conducting surprise inspections in the Illawarra, seizing 185 frozen abalone as part of Operation Tempest and as a result two people are facing a number of charges including abalone trafficking.
“Some of the recent convictions for abalone trafficking in NSW are amongst the toughest fisheries penalties handed down in Australia which helps deter other potential offenders from entering the water to fish illegally for abalone.”
Anyone who suspects illegal fishing is urged to contact:
The Fishers Watch phone line on 1800 043 536; or lodge an information report through the DPI website: www.fisheries.nsw.gov.au
Operation Gascoyne – Two men sentenced to prison
· Targeted an illegal abalone syndicate operating on NSW South Coast.
· Following a period of surveillance, a 38 year-old man from Albion Park and a 25 year-old man from Dalmeny were apprehended in possession of 70 live abalone, including 64 which were prohibited size.
· A targeted surveillance operation by DPI fisheries officers observed men diving in the area early in the morning.
· Fisheries officers observed the offenders leave the area and later located 70 abalone hidden in the water in a hessian bag.
· The offenders employed sophisticated counter surveillance techniques of the area throughout the rest of the day and into the night, to check if they were being watched.
· The abalone in the hessian bag were collected at night, with the offenders returning to the water to collect it under the cover of darkness.
· The hessian bag with abalone was concealed in nearby scrub by the offenders whilst they conducted further counter surveillance.
· DPI fisheries officers and police apprehended the offenders shortly afterwards.
· The 70 abalone were seized and then returned to the water alive.
· The men were arrested and transported to Narooma Police Station where they were charged with abalone offences. They were released on bail and appeared at Narooma Local Court on 7th March 2013.
· A 25 year-old man from Dalmeny NSW, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment (with a minimum of 7 months non-parole).
· A 38-year-old man from Albion Park NSW, was sentenced to 7 months imprisonment (with a minimum of 3 months non-parole).
Operation Tempest – Woman and man charged for abalone trafficking
· Operation Tempest ran for several months in the Illawarra region targeting illegal abalone trafficking.
· Numerous targeted restaurant inspections were conducted and a search warrant executed on a target residential address in Albion Park.
· A 37-year-old female from Albion Park will face a range of charges under the Fisheries Management Act where it will be alleged she was involved in abalone trafficking. Some of the seized items included 185 abalone (an indictable quantity), a chest freezer and scales.
· A 23-year-old Shellharbour man will also face fisheries charges as a result of operation Tempest for his alleged involvement in the illegal possession and sale of abalone.
Abalone – key facts
· The minimum legal size for abalone in NSW waters is 117 millimetres, 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.