The taste of abalone is a rare delicacy but one that is chased and prized by those who enjoy the shellfish, its a passion supported by a black market and illegal poachers.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is warning locals and holidaymakers in the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, and Shoalhaven to make sure the abalone they purchase is legal and safe following a number of apprehensions this summer.
DPI Director Fisheries Compliance, Patrick Tully says Fisheries Officers have been carrying out regular and routine inspections of abalone retailers as well as targeting illegal sellers and people supplying those sellers.
“Illegal abalone may be marginally cheaper to purchase but the health risks for you and your family and the potential of significant fines isn’t worth it,” Mr Tully says.
“Abalone not processed in line with strict food safety standards could be contaminated and present serious health risks.
“Buyers of illegal abalone are placing their family’s health at risk, their customers’ health at risk, it can have a detrimental effect on the reputation of their business and threatens the sustainability of the abalone resource in NSW.
“Consumers are encouraged to only purchase their seafood from recognised abalone retailers and always request a receipt.”
Recent apprehensions include two men allegedly in possession of 69 abalone at Manyana in the Shoalhaven in late January. The men were able to take the abalone off a rock platform due to the extremely low tide at the time, all were of a prohibited size and below the legal size limit of 11.7cm.
All the abalone were returned to water alive, the two men will be issued a court attendance notice.
In Batemans Bay, at around the same time, Fisheries officers assisted NSW Police after a man was allegedly found in possession of 190 abalone. Eighty-one of the abalone were still in their shell and the remaining 109 had been illegally shucked.
Of the 81 abalone still in their shell, 64 were of a prohibited size, the live abalone were returned to the water.
Mr Tully says people reporting illegal fishing relating to abalone may be entitled to a monetary reward if the information leads to the offender/s being prosecuted and convicted in court.
The penalties for illegally harvesting or illegally selling abalone can be significant.
“People buying or found in possession of black market abalone, and restaurants and seafood retailers found receiving or selling black market abalone can be prosecuted and fined up to $22,000 for individuals and $110,000 for companies plus additional penalties of up to 10 times the value of the illegal abalone in question. Individuals also face up to 10 years in jail,” Mr Tully says.
“In January 2019 a Berala man was convicted for the aggravated possession of 52 abalone and sentenced to nine months jail.
“He was also ordered to pay $1605 for the associated legal costs. He has since appealed this conviction.”
In an effort to curb the illegal trade and recognising the cultural significance of abalone for some people DPI Fisheries have also produced multilingual advisory material to inform people of the risks associated with purchasing illegally caught abalone.
The material has been translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.
If you suspect anyone of illegally taking or selling abalone in NSW, you can report them to the Fishers Watch Hotline on 1800 043 536 or via the online Report Illegal Activity Form.