Il­le­gal fish­ers a worry for Cape com­mu­ni­ties

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Amos Aik­man

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.

Pic­ture: ANNA RODGERS

A navy ves­sel ar­rives in Cairns with il­le­gal fish­er­men picked up off Lock­hart River

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