Illegal fishers a worry for Cape communities
THE mayor of Lockhart River, Wayne Butcher, says it is “frightening” that two illegal Vietnamese fishing boats were not picked up earlier by border protection.
The two vessels, which had 28 crew members on board, were caught off the Lockhart River coast in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park at the weekend with illegally caught sea cucumbers.
Mr Butcher said he was “surprised” the boat made it so close to the coast and that marine surveillance didn’t “seem too effective. “It’s a bit frightening in one sense if they can sneak through the Torres Strait and get down (here), because we’re one of the last communities on the east coast of Australia,” Mr Butcher told ABC Rural radio. “We’re in the middle of nowhere here.”
The intrusion has raised concerns in the remote Aboriginal community, which depends on local fisheries for food.
“It’s a very rich environment for fisheries ... for foreigners to get past the gate and tap into our resource, that’s just an extra burden on our fisheries,” he said. The boats were identified by a Dash-8 aircraft and intercepted by HMAS Childers and ABFC Roebuck Bay.
The boats had a large amount of hookah (diving) gear as well as illegally caught beche-de-mer or sea cucumbers.
The crew members were taken to Cairns on Tuesday morning and will be investigated by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. They would be placed in immigration detention during the prosecution process, a Border Protection spokesman said.
Commander Maritime Border Command, Rear Admiral Peter Laver, commended the joint efforts of Maritime Border Command and AFMA officers, “who continue to work tirelessly including during the Easter period to ensure Australia’s waters remain free from illegal fishing”.
An AFMA spokeswoman said the authority would investigate to determine what if any offences had been committed and who was responsible, The Cairns Post reported.
Penalties could include maximum fines of up to $1.35 million and the possible for- feiture of the vessels, catch and fishing equipment, she said.
Admiral Laver said officers had worked to ensure that the nation’s waters stayed free from illegal fishing.
“While most of us enjoyed a break over the long weekend, our officers at sea, and in the air, were hard at work,” he said.
In December, the Australian Border Force stopped three vessels from Papua New Guinea that had illegally fished about 350kg of beche-de-mer.
Beche-de-mer is a sea cucumber found on the ocean floor and considered a delicacy in Asia.
A navy vessel arrives in Cairns with illegal fishermen picked up off Lockhart River