Low prosecution rates has anglers calling for reform
MOUNTING frustrations over the low numbers of offenders prosecuted within the fisheries sector has the Mackay Recreational Fishing Alliance urging for sweeping reforms.
In June 2015 two members of the alliance, who did not wish to be named, set up surveillance cameras to monitor crab pots off Seaforth, after suspecting their stocks were being raided.
The cameras took a number of photographs showing two men picking up crab pots. After submitting those photographs to the department of fisheries, Halliday Bay man Colin Walters was charged on one count of interfering with aquaculture activity or fishing apparatus in July this year.
The department issued him a fine of $1150, but Mr Walters hired a barrister and fought the charge.
This week the department of agriculture and fisheries found there was "insufficient evidence to prosecute” and his name was cleared.
The images weren't shown in court, but speaking to The Daily Mercury after, Mr Walters explained he had picked up the crab pots because the rope they were attached to was blocking access to a gully.
He went on to claim he was a victim of theft, stating that in three months he had 45 crab pots stolen.
In the 2015-2016 financial year inspections from fisheries officers resulted in zero court prosecutions, although fines totalling $13,183 were issued.
In Airlie Beach however, inspections resulted in three court prosecutions and fines totalled $37,697.
MRFA President John Bennett said the sector needed to ensure compliance from everyone.
Mr Bennett believed if measures set out in the state government's green paper into fisheries management reform were adopted, the number of people prosecuted would be far higher.
"Is it any wonder that in the whole of last year in Queensland that only 39 cases were prosecuted even with the fisheries field officers spending 45,000 hours on patrol duties in that year,” Mr Bennett said.
"It's quite easy to come to the conclusion that these guys need a few extra spanners in their tool bag.”
The government is currently considering the submissions made during public consultation ahead of formulating policies next year from the green paper.
The paper suggested introducing stronger compliance powers and more significant penalties for fisheries offences.
These greater powers would stem from greater use of surveillance, gathering of intelligence, forensic accounting and information management.
It does not stipulate how this increased resourcing would be funded.
Mr Bennett also called for the Fisheries Act 1994 to be "tightened up”, to ensure people could be prosecuted for a greater range of offences.
While a Fisheries Queensland spokesperson said he appreciated the public gathering information, he said investigations and prosecutions "have to comply with the proper processes established by the Act as well as Court procedures”.
People who suspected illegal fishing should contact Fishwatch on 1800 017 116.
- In Mackay fisheries officers detected 57 offences from 1226 inspections in 2015-2016.
- 28 Fisheries Infringement Notices and 29 official cautions were issued.
- $13,183 worth of fines were issued.
- In Airlie Beach there were 38 detected offences, and three court prosecutions from 813 inspections.
- 15 Fisheries Infringement Notices and 15 official cautions were issued.
- Fines of $37,697 were issued.