The region’s natural environment is widely accepted as it’s best asset, sadly it’s a richness that attracts the opportunistic eye of criminals who look to plunder what most respect and appreciate.
A recent surveillance operation by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries Officers has uncovered what is suspected to be an organised abalone trafficking syndicate operating from the remote beaches of the Bega Valley.
Four men have been apprehended for illegally harvesting 1,093 abalone at Baronda Head, near Nelson Lagoon north of Tathra.
NSW DPI Director of Fisheries Compliance, Patrick Tully says the alleged offenders, were apprehended in a sting on April 2 and were known to Fisheries Officers.
“This was a significant outcome for our team, with our Statewide Operations and Investigations Group and Far South Coast officers seizing the illegally harvested abalone, 792 of which were of a prohibited size and all of which were shucked,” Mr Tully says.
“The 1,093 shucked abalone weighed in excess of 85 kg, meaning they would have a retail value of over $9,000.
“Charges have not been laid yet, but potential offences include – trafficking in fish; possessing more than the possession limit of abalone, possessing prohibited size abalone, and possessing shucked abalone adjacent to water.”
The pristine waters around Nelson Lagoon are famous for producing the best and most expensive seafood in Australia, the award-winning Tathra Oysters are grown in this very ecosystem and sell for $8 per oyster in some Sydney restaurants.
Mr Tully says if the alleged offenders are found guilty, they could face significant penalties.
“People dealing illegally in 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 $220,000 for companies,” he says.
“An additional penalty of up to 10 times the value of the illegal product applies and individuals also face up to 10 years in jail.
“Fisheries officers work closely with NSW Police in dealing with illegal fishing as often there are crossovers to other forms of crime.”
NSW Police Marine Area Command Regional Controller, Acting Inspector Christine McDonald says, “This seizure is significant, and is a direct result of implementing covert investigative strategies in a partner-agency environment to effectively arrest persons responsible.”
“It’s a serious crime, and individuals need to be held accountable,” she says.
Anyone with information on suspected illegal fishing activity is urged to call Fishers Watch on 1800 043 536, Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or report illegal fishing activities online.