Tightening net on “illegal fishing” offenders
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Tightening net on “illegal fishing” offenders

Individuals involved in illegal fishing, fish trafficking or who assault or obstruct fisheries officers, will be hit with tougher penalties and equipment seizures under new legislation before Parliament, says Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull.

“As a result of present laws, it seems offenders are often more willing to obstruct or assault fisheries officers rather than be caught with illegal equipment or an illegal catch, as obstruction and assault carry lesser penalties.

The introduction into Parliament of the “Fisheries Amendment Bill, 2011”will create similar penalties and provide fisheries officers with more powers.

“As fisheries offences can occur at sea or in other remote areas, offenders are able to more easily destroy evidence, such as fish and equipment, to avoid prosecution.

“There is concern that the present relatively low penalties for obstructing or assaulting officers, when compared with the penalties for fishing offences, create an incentive to destroy evidence and resist seizure or apprehension.

“The current penalty for obstructing or assaulting an authorised officer under the Act is 50 penalty units or three months imprisonment. The bill will provide that the new maximum penalty will be 120 penalty units and/or 12 months imprisonment. This will provide a greater disincentive, as well as better reflect the seriousness of the offence. 

“The amendments will provide a more robust set of penalties that should assist with conservation of the state’s fisheries resources. 

“The Act currently provides for the automatic forfeiture of prohibited fishing equipment, but is being amended so that it also provides for the automatic forfeiture of fish, protected aquatic biota and noxious aquatic species.

“Under the Act a court can make an order to prohibit a person from carrying out fishing activities or fishing. These provisions are primarily preventative in nature. However, it must first be established that the offence is of a serious nature and that the person is likely to commit further offences against the Act if such an order is not made. This is often difficult to establish for repeat recreational fishing offenders. 

“The bill will overcome this by creating a new penalty provision that allows the court to issue an order to revoke recreational fishing privileges for up to 12 months. Whether the court makes such an order will be at the discretion of the court, depending on the circumstances of the offence or the prior history of the offender. This will provide a better deterrent to offenders, especially repeat offenders,” said Mr Bull.