Dodgy lobster fishermen threatened with $110,000 fines

Authorities warn they regularly patrol waters for people doing the wrong thing.

Fishermen taking more than their fair catch are being threatened with fines of up to $110,000.

At peak holiday times, eastern rock lobsters can surge to between $90 and $100 a kilo, so these hefty returns can lure many anglers into setting more traps than are allowed.

NSW fisheries compliance officer Lee Burdett told Yahoo News Australia shellfish like abalone and eastern rock lobsters are seen as upmarket seafood. “If you go to a high-end fancy restaurant that’s where you’ll see them,” she said. “So if people catch them themselves they’ll save a considerable amount of money.”

Two people on a boat in the ocean catching lobsters.
Two people were fined more than $1000 each for offences related to trapping lobsters. Source: DPI Fisheries

How quotas have helped lobster populations recover

Before commercial quotas were placed on the species around 25 years ago, numbers dwindled, but better management means the species is now rebounding. Professional rock lobster fishermen largely abide by the rules because they have an interest in maintaining healthy populations, but it’s hobbyists who are often caught doing the wrong thing.

To try and keep the rock lobster population strong, NSW Fisheries carries out several operations a year, checking for compliance. “At different times of the year, eastern rock lobsters come close to the shore… so while they’re in that environment, that’s when we’ll be making sure people are doing the right thing,” Ms Burdett said.

Close-up of lobsters in a crate.
Eastern rock lobster numbers have recovered since commercial quotas were applied. Source: Getty

Images shared with Yahoo show an operation off Nelson Bay, north of Newcastle, from January. While most people were complying with the regulations that allow individuals to set just one trap a day, a pair on one vessel was spotted setting eight. Rather than pursue higher penalties in court, authorities opted to slap them both with $1000 on-the-spot fines.

Warning to fishermen doing the wrong thing

The NSW lobster industry is worth around $12 million a year. Ms Burdett warns anyone doing the wrong thing should know they will eventually get caught.

“Beware of the fines. They can be significant. If you’re caught multiple times then there’s a very strong likelihood that we will prosecute you,” she said.

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