Fishermen fined $16,000 after illegal stash discovered during covert investigation

Around 844 metres of illegal nets were being secretly used by the commercial fishermen, and their prohibited routine was eventually stopped by authorities.

Blue tubs filled with illegal fishing net stashed in scrub at Point Wilson.
An illegal cache of nets was discovered during a routine patrol along Victoria's Port Phillip Bay. Source: VFA

Two Aussie fishermen have been slapped with almost $16,000 in fines after their illegal stash was discovered hidden in coastal scrub.

Inside a handful of blue tubs, fisheries officers found hundreds of metres of fishing nets — equipment banned on the western side of Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay to free up more catch for recreational anglers. Commercial fishermen who used them were financially compensated after they were forced to change to long-lines in 2022.

But two commercial fishermen aged 43 and 78 developed a plan to continue to secretly use nets to trawl the bay for snapper, gummy shark, and bream. Their haul was then laundered at a wholesale fish market.

A map of Port Phillip Bay with a red circle around where Point Wilson is.
The men stashed their nets along the coast at Point Wilson, west of Melbourne. Source: Google Earth, Landsat, Copernicus, Data SIO, NOAA

For six months, the father and son commercial fishing team from Altona Meadows were unaware they were subject to a covert investigation by the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA).

“We had surveillance cameras set up until we finally got good enough photos where we could identify which boat it was, and this led us to identify the fishers involved,” VFA director of enforcement Ian Parks told Yahoo News.

The illegal activity was documented around Point Wilson, close to Melbourne’s Avalon Airport, and the internationally recognised Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site which has six distinct wetland areas.

VFA observed the men “dangerously” travelling without navigation lights visible at night. The pair were licensed to fish using lines, but after their vessel was launched they would secretly collect nets hidden along the remote shoreline, catch fish, then stash the nets before returning to the boat ramp.

A shed at VFA's Queenscliff depot with two truck in it in the distance. Around 844 metres of seized nets have been laid out on the ground.
Around 844 metres of nets were collected and taken to the VFA's offices at Queenscliff. Source: VFA

After gathering evidence of the crime, officers apprehended them in November 2023, seizing around 844 metres of net and the commercial fishing vessel used to commit the offences.

On Friday the men pleaded guilty to charges including unauthorised use of commercial fishing equipment, illegally selling fish, and dealing in the proceeds of crime. The younger of the two was fined $10,300, while the older man will be forced to pay out $5,500.

Following the conviction, VFA is reviewing whether the men could still be considered “fit and proper” people fit to hold commercial fishing licenses.

Parks believes the majority of commercial fishermen do the right thing, and the illegal activity his team uncovered is “unfortunate and unusual”. He hopes the conviction and fines will serve as a warning to anyone else who thinks the rules don't apply to them.

“Your chances of getting caught are really strong. Not only do we have fisheries officers patrolling at all hours of the day or night to detect this activity, we’ve got a great community that are also watching all the time,” he said.

“There’s always someone watching. It could be the person in the boat next to you.”

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