Heavy price to pay for illegal fish hauls

04 February 2019

A Camperdown fish and chip shop owner and three associates pleaded guilty in court today to illegally taking fish for sale, exceeding catch limits and dealing with the proceeds of crime, and received various penalties ranging from jail, fines and 10-year fishing bans to the forfeiture of their 7.5m boat, truck and fishing gear worth $180,000.

Victorian Fisheries Authority Director of Education and Enforcement Ian Parks said the serious sentences show that people who illegally take fish and those who sell them can and will be prosecuted to ensure our valuable fisheries remain sustainable.

“The 16-month investigation, called Operation Torpedo, was one of the biggest ever in Fisheries’ history and VFA officers conducted surveillance on the four men many times whilst they fished along the southwest Victorian coast,” Mr Parks said.

“The fish and chip shop owner pleaded guilty to illegally taking shark and other fish and selling them through his retail outlet. He also pleaded guilty to possessing commercial fishing equipment, failing to retain shark in carcass form, exceeding the daily catch limit for sharks and dealing with the proceeds of crime to the value of $50,000.

“He was convicted and sentenced to three months imprisonment, banned from fishing or being aboard a boat in Victorian waters for 10 years, fined $9,000 and had his $150,000 boat, truck and fishing gear forfeited.

“A second man involved in the shop’s management was convicted and sentenced to the same without forfeiture.

“A third man, who accompanied the shop owner on most fishing trips, was convicted and sentenced to two months imprisonment, banned from fishing or being aboard a boat for 10 years and fined $7,500.

“The fourth man, who participated in six fishing trips, was convicted, fined $6,000 and banned from recreational fishing for 12 months.

Three of the men have lodged appeals.

In handing down the sentences, Magistrate Holzer said gummy and school shark (often sold as flake), mako shark, flathead, snapper, morwong, leatherjacket and gurnard, were taken back to the shop, processed, then laundered and sold as legitimately sourced seafood.

“Your actions were motivated by self-interest and greed. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out what’s going on here,” Magistrate Holzer said.

Mr Parks said this sort of activity undermines the viability of legitimate commercial fisheries, creates food safety risks to the community and jeopardises the sustainability of fisheries resources.

“Our Fisheries Officers and investigators will continue to detect, disrupt and dismantle organised illegal fishing activity as a priority. We are dedicated to exploring all avenues to bring offenders to justice and protect Victoria's fisheries resources for sustainable and legitimate use.”

If you see or suspect illegal fishing call Fisheries’ reporting line 13FISH (133474) anytime.