WA’s lucrative lobster black market has taken a significant hit after three Cervantes fishermen were convicted and fined more than $110,000 for illegally selling rock lobsters following a covert operation by fisheries officers.
Fisheries Department compliance and regional support manager John Looby said the penalties handed to Arthur Anthony Della-Santina and brothers Norman Thomas Gazeley and Allan John Gazeley last week were an important win in the fight against the lobster black market.
“We deliberately pitch the (penalty) scale high for illegal commercial activity because it’s very difficult to catch and as the activity can be profitable, the penalties need to be an effective deterrent,” he said.
“The fact that three men got around $118,000 in penalties, it’s the type of message we want to send. If you do engage in black market activities, the department does have the methodologies to apprehend you and the penalties could be quite severe.”
Della-Santina and the Gazeleys were convicted of various charges, including dealing in 100 rock lobsters in a joint black market sale to an undercover fisheries officer in 2011. The men were charged after an investigation codenamed Operation Cosmos targeting illegal commercial trading.
Della-Santina and Norman Gazeley had also faced charges which included overpotting and processing lobsters for a commercial purpose without a licence and they were convicted following a trial in Perth Magistrate’s Court last week.
Della-Santina was fined $35,762, which included a $21,762 mandatory penalty, while Gazeley was fined $43,750, which included a mandatory $28,250 penalty.
Allan Gazeley had also been due to stand trial but was convicted of the charges in his absence after he did not turn up to court for the trial. He was fined a total of $34,128.
All three men’s recreational fishing licences were suspended for 12 months.
Mr Looby said the illegal sales of lobster were at the top end of fishery offences and such illegal activity could not be condoned.
He said significant resources were put into the investigation, which took several years to be complete.
He said taking fish and selling them for commercial gain without a licence, not only jeopardised the livelihoods of legitimately licensed fishers but also threatened sustainability of the fishery.
“If we lose control of the fishery and it crashes, we may never get it back at the same level so this type of natural resource crime is particularly serious,” he said.
“If you want to engage in rock lobster fishery, then you need to buy a managed fisheries licence with the appropriate quota on it. Recreational fishermen have access for their own personal use but what they don’t have access for is to take and sell lobsters.”
Mr Looby said recreationally licensed fishers were allowed to use two pots and take eight lobsters a day for their personal use.