Harsher punishments coming as vulnerable mangrove ‘takes a beating’ from illegal fishing

Harsher punishments coming as vulnerable mangrove ‘takes a beating’ from illegal fishing

Authorities say repeat offenders will be banned from approaching a vulnerable waterway in Western Australia that has “copped a beating” from illegal fishing. 

Key points:

  • A vulnerable creek system near Carnarvon is repeatedly targeted by illegal fishers
  • Fisheries say bans and gear seizures are among harsher penalties being considered
  • Locals say fines are failing to deter repeat offenders

The Miaboolya Creek System, near Carnarvon, 900 kilometres north of Perth, is a mangrove waterway and a designated fish habitat protection area.

It is a popular spot for fishers seeking out prized species like green mud crabs, mulloway, and black and gold-spotted cod.

But local frustration over the number and size of fish and crabs being caught has prompted a harsher approach.

“The community is pretty sick and tired of these people who know the rules but are deliberately offending,” fisheries officer Matt Clarke said.

Under WA law, courts can ban a person convicted of illegal fishing from engaging in fishing activities, being in possession of fishing gear, or being in specified places.

In December alone three men were fined for illegal fishing in the area and one was banned from going near the Miaboolya System for three months.

A mud crab readies to participate in the annual crab races at Rapid Creek in Darwin.

Mud crabs are one of the most common species to be illegally fished around Carnarvon.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Mr Clarke said banning people from areas was not something fisheries had pushed for in Carnarvon, but fines were not deterring repeat offenders and a harsher approach was needed.

Harsher measures supported

Local fisher Shaun Brandenburg welcomed tougher penalties, saying illegal fishing had worsened in recent years.

He said people had been exceeding bag limits, taking undersized fish and crabs, and damaging the environment.

Man holds a fish.

Local fisher Shaun Brandenburg says it is difficult to police illegal fishing around Carnarvon.(Supplied: Shaun Brandenburg)

“I look at it as a multi-pronged attack on the ecosystem,” he said.

“I have seen people chopping down mangroves to make the creek more accessible and I’ve seen lots of people just leaving rubbish around.”

Mr Brandenburg said harsher measures would deter people who believed they could get away with illegal activity because of the remoteness of the region.

“The ocean is copping a bit of beating because [illegal fishers] know there is only a certain number of officers in a certain amount of areas,” he said.

Remote policing

The decision to pursue tougher measures comes at the end of a six-year campaign, known as Operation Eastburn, which targeted the high rate of deliberate illegal fishing in Carnarvon’s coastal waters and mangrove creeks.

The operation has seen 21 people charged with offences and handed fines totalling more than $93,000. 

Pic of a boat and fishing net.

Fishing equipment seized from an illegal fisher in Carnarvon.(Supplied: DPIRD)

Mr Clarke said, while the operation was ending, the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD) was committed to maintaining a thorough protection operation throughout the area. 

“I think there are people who get away with it once or twice and think that we aren’t aware,” he said.

“As was shown with the matters that went to court, for two out of three of those individuals it was the second time they were convicted by the department.

“While we might not get them on each occasion that they fish illegally, generally we’ve got a pretty good idea of what people are up to.”

A Recfishwest spokesperson said the organisation supported any move DPIRD took to deter illegal fishing activity. 

“The vast majority of recreational fishers do the right thing and stick to the rules because they understand they are there to ensure we can continue to enjoy fishing into the future,” they said.

“We are supportive of DPIRD taking appropriate action to ensure the rules are adhered to by those who refuse to follow them.”

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