Increase in illegal fishing in northern Australia
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) reports that 101 fishing vessels have been intercepted in Australia’s northern waters in the past three months, up from 85 for the entire 2020-21 fiscal year.
The growing number of Indonesian fishing boats operating in Rowley Shoals Marine Park, 300 km offshore from Broome, has sparked outrage from local fishermen and tour operators for environmental damage and even piracy.
AFMA’s director general for fishing operations Peter Venslovas told the ABC that a number of factors were behind the increase.
âPotentially the damage from Cyclone Seroja and the need for operators to earn money to recoup their losses,â Venslovas told the ABC.
âThere are other push factors – the COVID issues in places like Indonesia, people returning to regional towns and moving away from areas where they had jobs.
“Essentially, Indonesia’s fishing vessels are now starting to encroach further south.”
The target is the sea cucumber or “trepang” which can sell for between 15 and 30 dollars per kilo in Indonesian markets.
“So it’s a lucrative business for them if they can get by,” Venslovas told the ABC.
The pandemic has also restricted the ability of authorities to detain the crews of illegal ships and detain them.
“Bringing foreign nationals into Australia in the current environment presents risks that should be managed more carefully.”
He said it was too early to say whether the change in approach could simply result in the same fishermen returning to Australian waters after being escorted.
Patrol boats have been deployed off the Top End to target and monitor illegal fishing, with regular surveillance flights taking place over the Marine Park and other critical areas.
“The Maritime Boundary Command and the Navy have assets there. All illegal fishing is not good and will not be tolerated,” Venslovas said.
âResponses and actions will be taken to identify and catch these people, and take enforcement action. “
But with Australian waters encompassing an area of ââthe high seas larger than mainland Australia, surveillance and intelligence are essential.
Venslovas said work is also underway with local authorities in Indonesia to prevent boats from leaving the port.
âThe message to Indonesian fishermen is, ‘Don’t come here. This will involve the seizure of your catch, your equipment and your boat, so don’t take a chance ‘.
“We are getting a lot of cooperation in Indonesia to send these messages.”
WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said it was essential for the government to take stronger action in response to repeated incursions into the marine park.
âThe Rowley Shoals are a valuable ecological asset,â said Punch.
âThey are home to an incredible number of fish species and some of the most spectacular coral atolls in the world.
“The Rowley Shoals fishery is carefully managed to ensure the stocks are not threatened by fishing activities, and Border Force must act to protect this pristine natural asset.”
He said the government would work with local tour operators to ensure that further observations and information is passed to federal agencies as efficiently as possible.
Source: ABC News