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‘See something, say something’: Seafood peak-body responds to increased reports of illegal foreign fishing vessels

Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), the national peak-body representing the Australian seafood industry, has responded to an increase in reports of illegal foreign fishing vessels off the North Coast of Australia and reminded water users to report any suspicious vessels. 

“It’s concerning to see an increase in activity of illegal Indonesian fishers in Australian waters,” SIA CEO Veronica Papacosta said.

“The Australian seafood industry supports the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s (AFMA) zero tolerance policy for such illegal activity. We commend AFMA for their interception of more than 100 Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels since July 1. 

“Maintaining surveillance is extremely important to the Australian seafood industry and we support the Australian Government’s proactive in-market campaign. Furthermore, we encourage industry and any other water users to proactively report any suspicious or foreign fishing vessel sightings to the relevant authorities.

“AFMA works closely with Maritime Border Command (MBC), a joint agency taskforce enabled by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to prevent IUU fishing, and safeguard our fish stocks against exploitation by illegal foreign fishing vessels. We thank them for their hard work.” 

“MBC has set up Operation JAWLINE, a targeted operation to combat IUU and to counter the recent increase in incursions by foreign fishing vessels (FFVs) operating in Australian waters. Expanded operations to counter incursions by Indonesian FFVs includes additional vessel patrol activity by MBC vessels, supported by aerial surveillance flights,” AFMA said in a statement. 

‘Most recently our efforts have been boosted by joint operations between AFMA officers and Marine Officers from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Fisheries, utilising their large offshore patrol vessel.

“In order to minimise the transmission of COVID-19 into the Australian community, the on-water response has necessarily been adjusted to protect our officers and the broader Australian community. Legislative forfeitures of vessels, gear or catch at sea, disposal of vessels and boarding of FFVs are conducted in accordance with COVID-safe practices.

“Between 1 July 2021 and 15 October 2021, Operation Jawline has resulted in the destruction of 15 illegal foreign fishing vessels as well as the seizure of fishing equipment and catch from an additional 86 vessels. Indonesian vessels coming into the AFZ have been targeting beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) around Cartier, Ashmore and Scott Reef in waters off north Western Australia and further south at Rowley Shoals.

“AFMA and other Australian government agencies, including the Australian Border Force are working with Indonesian officials to distribute fisheries enforcement chartlets, translated into Indonesian language, to fishing communities in the ports of Kupang and on the island of Rote in East Nusa Tenggara province. These chartlets are part of a broader engagement campaign which includes public meetings by Indonesian officials that seek to educate fishers in key ports to outline the risks of fishing illegally in Australian waters.

“Our message to foreign fishers that choose to fish outside the rules is simple. We will intercept you, you will lose your catch, your equipment and possibly even your vessel. The seizure of fishing gear and disposal of vessels serves as a reminder to those seeking to exploit Australia’s marine resources that Australian authorities have zero tolerance for such illegal activity.” 

“As an industry our priority is the ocean. It’s our future and the future of generations to come,” Ms Papacosta said.