Victorian authorities have seized a $50,000 boat after allegedly uncovering contraband hidden inside.
Undertaking a routine patrol on December 27 at Point Wilson, near Geelong, fisheries officers initially believed a man and woman on board were simply angling for fish. The haul inside the boat’s cooler looked to be compliant with regulations as it contained whiting and several abalone.
According to Victorian Fisheries Authority’s Ian Parks, a further search of the six-metre aluminium boat uncovered a larger haul of abalone – allegedly many times over the legal daily catch limit of five per person.
“A search of the boat allegedly revealed two intricate concealments of more abalone onboard, the first containing 71 freshly shucked (removed from shell) and 18 whole abalone,” Mr Parks said. “The second concealment allegedly contained 17 whole abalone, making a total of 116 including the 10 abalone initially presented to officers.”
After being escorted to a nearby boat ramp, officers seized diving gear, the catch, and the boat — thought to be worth approximately $50,000. An image of the boat plastered with a sign reading 'Seized by Fisheries' and being towed away were posted to social media. The un-shucked abalone were released back into the water.
The pair now face a series of charges including exceeding the daily bag limit, concealing fish taken in contravention of the state’s fisheries act, and hindering fisheries officers.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia on Wednesday, Mr Parks said anyone considering breaching abalone take limits should remember Victoria has "some of the toughest laws in the country". This includes imprisonment of up to 10 years for trafficking commercial quantities.
Abalone fishing restricted across Victoria
Abalone is considered a delicacy in Asia — the region where most of Australia’s annual catch is exported. The industry is one of Victoria's most profitable, and annual catch limits are set each year to ensure stocks remain healthy.
Because the giant marine snails can attract between $70 and $120 a kilogram, there has long been a thriving black market trade, although Victorian Fisheries Authority said the problem is not as big as it was in the 1990s.
There are two commercially caught species of abalone in Victoria, the blacklip and the greenlip. They live on rocky reefs at up to 30 metres and divers use specialised tools to delicately remove them.
"Abalone are a highly-prized, valuable species, and if we don't have strict controls they'll be over-fished and become unavailable. We've got to protect the resource for future generations," Mr Parks said.
Victoria has a 24-hour fisheries hotline and anyone who suspects or witnesses illegal activity is urged to call 13FISH (133 474).
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