Busselton search warrant executed in alleged illegal seafood trade

Fisheries officers from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development have executed search warrants in Busselton and Margaret River, as part of an investigation into alleged illegal trading in abalone and rock lobster.

Fisheries South compliance manager Richard Petty said the early evening raids on Wednesday at three residences in East Cannington, Busselton and Margaret River were the culmination of months of surveillance operations by the department.  

“Extensive covert operations have been carried out to identify people alleged to be illegally dealing in high value seafood,” he said.

“Dealing in recreationally caught fish of any species is illegal and considered to be at the highest level of offending.

“Unlawful dealing in seafood also has the potential to compromise livelihoods in WA’s commercial fishing industry and seafood supply chains and can also have impacts on the sustainability of the fish stocks.”

Two men, apprehended as a result of this investigation, are likely to face a number of charges for serious offences and further enquiries are continuing into a number of other people.

The offences are focused on alleged dealing of more than 500 rock lobsters and more than 1000 abalone. 

Mr Petty said WA laws had significant penalties attached for trafficking of seafood.

“The potential penalties for trafficking large quantities of priority fish reflect Parliament's and the community's views about the severity of these types of offences,” he said.

“Trafficking offences around both rock lobster and abalone apply when the quantity involved is greater than ten times the daily bag limit for the species involved.”

Individuals who traffick in priority fish, such as abalone and rock lobster, face fines of up to $400,000 and four year’s imprisonment, as well as court orders, licence suspensions and vehicle and vessel forfeitures.

Body corporates could be fined up to $800,000 for similar fish trafficking offences.

Mr Petty said that the resources directed towards this week’s apprehensions showed how serious DPIRD takes such matters and demonstrated the department’s capabilities in identifying this type of offending.

“Anyone who suspects any kind of illegal fishing or illegal trading in fish is urged to phone FishWatch on 1800 815 507 so compliance officers can investigate,” he said.