Image of Fisheries Officer Lydia with students in the Pacific.
28 August 2018

While on patrol in Cairns to inspect bycatch gear on Australian commercial fishing boats, Lydia received a call from her manager in Darwin – two suspected illegal Vietnamese fishing vessels had just been apprehended off the coast of Queensland, and Lydia was now in charge of the case.

Lydia had never been the lead officer on an Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) illegal fishing case like this before, and felt like she was still finding her feet as a Fisheries Officer. Nevertheless, she was instructed to stay in Cairns and lead the inspection of two Vietnamese fishing vessels that had been secured on a mooring 5 miles away from shore.

Two years prior Lydia had travelled to the Federated States of Micronesia where she’d gained firsthand experience with this type of fishing operation, making her the best person for the job.

First, she conducted a systematic, full search of the fishing vessels; nothing could be missed. She inspected the sea cucumber that had been caught, the type and quantity of fishing gear on-board, and the number of barrels to store catch. She also took note of the amount of fuel, salt, rice and cigarettes aboard, to determine how long these fishers could have stayed at sea, and to estimate the amount of illegal fishing they could have done in Australian waters, if not caught.

Lydia’s next job was to interview the 28 Vietnamese crew members, to gather more evidence relating to where and how long they planned to fish in the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ). One fisher said they planned to keep fishing until there were no sea cucumber left.

Finally, Lydia compiled her brief of evidence for prosecution, and the fishers were taken to court, fined a total of $5,000 and their boats were confiscated and destroyed.

For Lydia, a routine trip to Cairns had evolved into an illegal fishing compliance investigation at a moment’s notice, but this is the life of an AFMA Fisheries Officer.

After six years working with AFMA, Lydia is still as excited about coming to work as when she first started. She has worked in both domestic and international compliance teams, in Canberra, Darwin, and throughout the Pacific. She’s out of the office for about 75 days a year to conduct patrols, work with fisheries officers in other countries, and to undertake compliance investigations.

Prior to joining AFMA, Lydia had no experience in fisheries or compliance. However, her ability to speak Indonesian and her degree in International Relations are a great asset to her team, as AFMA works closely with our neighbours in the Pacific and Asia. One of Lydia’s first jobs after moving to Darwin was conducting two capacity building programs with Indonesian fisheries officers.

For Lydia, the best thing about not having a background in fisheries or compliance is that she is learning every day. There are high expectations in the International Compliance Team, so she’s always motivated to work hard and learn more.

The work of AFMA Fisheries Officers is essential to ensuring the sustainability of Australian fisheries. To know more about AFMA’s fisheries officers, read about Alan Specketer’s experience as a Senior Fisheries Officer here.