'Harsh': Ringleader of Gladstone's illegal fishermen locked up
VIETNAMESE fishermen involved in an illegal operation to poach sea cucumbers off Gladstone's shore last month have been jailed.
The 14 crewmen caught illegally fishing were given a range of punishments, including three being sent to jail, when they were convicted in the Darwin Magistrates Court yesterday.
Three crew were identified as repeat offenders; two were sentenced to four months' imprisonment, with the third sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
Ten crew members received two-month suspended jail sentences as first time offenders.
On February 15 the crewmen were apprehended in Gladstone, brought to our port by the Australian Border Force.
The crew were caught at Saumarez Reef, with another Vietnamese vessel also believed to be involved in illegally poaching sea cucumbers.
The crewmen from the second vessel are yet to be charged.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority general manager operations Peter Vensolvas said the outcome of this case demonstrated how serious an offence illegally fishing in Australian waters was.
He said the vessel was apprehended and fumigated by AFMA, Maritime Border Command, a multi-agency force within the Australian Border Force, and Parks Australia.
"Potential fish poachers are on our radar - they will be caught and face the harsh consequences of their illegal activity," Mr Vensolvas said.
Australian forces are cracking down on Vietnamese fishermen in Australia's waters who sometimes travel more than 6000km to poach beche-de-mers, better known as sea cucumbers.
It's believed tougher policing of the oceans in Asia and low fish stocks has driven the crewmen further ashore to Australian waters.
Parks Australia manager for marine parks compliance Scott Clementz said illegal fishing activities damaged Australia's marine habitats.
"Tough penalties are necessary to deter illegal fishing activity," Mr Clementz said.
"Without strong deterrence we are not able to preserve the health of our oceans for current and future generations.
"Parks Australia welcomes these convictions and we will continue to work with our partners to pursue those who break the rules that protect Australia's marine parks."
Figures from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) show 20 foreign fishing boats were apprehended in 2015-2016, compared with six in 2014-2015.
Maritime Border Command rear admiral Peter Laver said their operations were tailored to counter this kind of illegal maritime activity.
"This is another example which demonstrates how our effort at the frontline is stopping the exploitation of our natural resources" Commander Laver said.
More information on how Australia is working to combat illegal fishing can be found at afma.gov.au.