Turtles and sharks ‘killed and turfed overboard’ by foreign fishers, claim industry bosses, as Border Force swoops

Turtles and sharks ‘killed and turfed overboard’ by foreign fishers, claim industry bosses, as Border Force swoops

Fishing industry bosses claim turtles are being “killed and turfed overboard” and the ocean floor “stripped of all sorts of creatures” by illegal foreign fishers in waters off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast.

Key points:

  • The Border Force operation has been labelled a “quick fix”
  • Industry bosses are concerned illegal foreign fishers could be killing turtles, sharks and demersal fish
  • The federal opposition minister says the recent detainment of 30 fishers could be the “tip of the iceberg”

The WA Fishing Industry Council raised the concerns on behalf of commercial fishers, after the Australian Border Force announced it had detained its largest cohort of foreign fishers in more than a decade. 

A multi-agency operation apprehended 30 illegal fishers in waters within the Kimberley Marine Park, and uncovered three illegal fishing boats, more than one tonne of trepang and 600 kilograms of salt used to preserve the highly sought after sea cucumbers.

The vessels have been destroyed and the detained Indonesian fishers transported to Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, north-east of Perth.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) would not confirm whether charges had been laid or whether the group had been removed from Australia.

Turtles ‘turfed’ overboard

WA Fishing Industry Council CEO Darryl Hockey said while the recent operation was a good start, illegal fishing activity remained a bigger problem.

He claimed hundreds of boats were entering WA waters every month.

“The fishermen are really quite indiscriminate,” he said.

Man with white hair wearing a navy jumper and looking at camera while leaning on a rail.

Darryl Hockey claims illegal fishers are killing and hauling in turtles, sharks and other demersal fish.(ABC: Chris Lewis)

Mr Hockey said not only were illegal foreign fishers hauling in trepang, he had received reports demersal fish and turtles were also being caught.

“They’ve basically killed the turtle, grabbed the bit of meat and the shell off them and turfed the rest … it’s pretty horrible,” he said.

“They’re peeling all the shells off the reef, they’re spearing every fish they find, they’re catching every shark they can catch.”

He said illegal fishers were camping on islands off the Kimberley coast, with one Australian fisher chased.

“We’ve had first hand reports from one of the fishermen who actually went on the island and was chased off by a couple of them [illegal fishers],” he said.

Blitz a ‘quick fix’

Mr Hockey acknowledged the remoteness of the region was difficult to police.

“If the government’s just going to come in and have a quick blitz, catch 30 people and hold them up as examples, that’s not going to fix the issue. Otherwise, it’s all going to come back again very quickly,” he said.

Border force officers in uniforms watch smaller patrol boat depart ship

Operation Leedstrum netted the largest cohort of foreign fishers in more than a decade.(Supplied: Australian Border Force)

WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said while he was not surprised by the number of detainees apprehended in the marine park, he was confident in the federal government’s response.

“Blitzes have a role to play,” Mr Punch said.

“We don’t just do an operation and see the end of it. This is really about an ongoing effort. But occasionally serious blitzes do drive home a pretty significant message to the fishing vessel fleet, that they’re at risk”.

A man in a suit smiling.

Senator Duniam says the number of people who were detained by authorities in WA waters during Operation Leedstrum could be “the tip of the iceberg”.(Supplied: Jonathon Duniam)

Shadow Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Duniam said the Kimberley Marine Park operation could be the “tip of the iceberg”.

“I’m concerned about what we don’t know and how many people are still out there conducting these illegal operations,” he said.

Mr Duniam said he welcomed any investment in protecting Australian’s marine environment and borders.

Federal Fisheries Minister Murray Watt has been contacted for comment.

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