Tonnes of native fish sold on the black market
A Mildura couple and a Melbourne man have been convicted and ordered to repay thousands of dollars after pleading guilty to Victoria’s largest ever illegal inland fishing racket.
A court has heard between five and seven tonnes of native Murray cod and golden perch were caught and then sold on the black market in Melbourne, turning over almost $75000, which the court ordered be repaid.
In the culmination of a five-year operation spearheaded by fisheries investigators at the Department of Primary Industries, the last of three offenders pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court this week to multiple offences related to the illegal netting of fish near Mildura since 2005.
Minister Responsible for Fisheries Joe Helper said Murray cod and golden perch were iconic native fish unique to the Murray Darling Basin, which are listed as threatened and vulnerable and should be protected.
“The Brumby Labor Government takes its responsibilities to protect these iconic and important native fish species very seriously,” Mr Helper said.
“This level of illegal fishing puts unsustainable pressure on fish stocks for future generations.
“The nature of this long and comprehensive investigation shows the Government’s determination to pursue criminal fishing activities with all of the tools at its disposal.
“This result sends a very strong message to the community that illegal netting of native fish is a serious criminal matter that will not be tolerated.”
In November 2009, a 44-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman, both from a property near Mildura, and a 59-year-old man from Melbourne were charged with a number of illegal fishing offences including dealing in the proceeds of crime.
This week the Mildura woman was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond, ordered to repay $27,700 and costs of $2000.
In an earlier hearing, the Mildura man was convicted and sentenced to 15 months’ jail, suspended for two years. He was ordered to pay $46,810 and to pay costs of $1500
He was also banned from possessing fishing equipment or being in any boat on or next to Victorian waters for the next 10 years.
A residential property owned by the Mildura couple was also restrained to hold against the $75,000 pecuniary penalty order for money obtained from the proceeds of crime. A boat and more than 300 items of commercial fishing equipment and commercial scales valued at several thousand dollars were also forfeited.
In another earlier hearing the Melbourne man was also convicted and ordered to repay $3500, pay court costs of $1663 and another $2500 towards the Fish Care Volunteer program.
The court heard that based on an American fisheries agency formula the cost to the community to replace one large mature Murray cod was $2275 and a golden perch was $682.
The fish were caught near Mildura between 2005 and 2009 and then shipped to Melbourne where they were sold.
Fisheries Victoria executive director Anthony Hurst said the DPI’s Fisheries Officers were supported by Investigators from the department’s state-wide investigations group, Victoria police and Fisheries Officers and investigators from New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.
“All these organisations are working cooperatively and continuing to investigate the illegal take and sale of fish,” Mr Hurst said.
“The DPI encourages the community to report suspicious or illegal fishing activities to the department’s 24-hour fishing offence hot line; 13FISH (13 3474).
Mr Helper said under new laws introduced by the Brumby Labor Government last year similar offences now carry even more severe penalties.
“The amendments, which came into effect after these matters, mean new tougher powers and penalties to include trafficking and conspiracy type offences that could mean jail terms of up to ten years,” he said.