The Daru National and District Court in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has handed down a series of fines to 14 fishers who were found guilty of illegally fishing in Australian waters within the Torres Strait Protected Zone.
The fishers were apprehended in May 2018 by officers from Maritime Border Command (MBC), a multi-agency taskforce within the Australian Border Force (ABF), working closely with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
One master was convicted on two counts of unlicensed commercial fishing for crab and finfish near Saibai Island, and his crew were each convicted on one charge.
A second master was convicted on two counts of unlicensed commercial fishing for crab and finfish near Saibai Island and his crew were each convicted on one charge.
The vessels were sighted by an MBC surveillance aircraft on Wednesday 23 May and were intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Wollongong, near Sabai Island.
Under the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty, PNG nationals suspected of fishing illegally in Australian waters of the Torres Strait are repatriated to PNG to face a local court.
In sentencing the fishers, who were all from Mabaduan village in PNG, the Magistrate acknowledged their boats and gear had already been confiscated by AFMA.
The Magistrate then handed down fines totalling PGK$3,600, which must be paid within 14 days, or the fishers will face jail time.
AFMA’s General Manager of Fisheries Operations, Peter Venslovas, said AFMA works closely with its PNG counterparts, the National Fisheries Authority, and acknowledges the work they have done in progressing these matters through the PNG court.
“It is a timely reminder that we treat illegal fishing seriously in the Torres Strait and there will be no leeway given to those who break the law,” Mr Venslovas said
Acting Commander Maritime Border Command, Commodore Malcolm Wise, said the result demonstrates the effectiveness of the multi-agency approach to keeping Australian waters safe.
“Our ongoing presence in the Torres Strait and the collaboration between agencies has seen illegal fishing numbers significantly decrease in recent years and we are ensuring these waters are protected for the future,” Commodore Wise said.
“Protecting Australia’s unique marine environment is one of our key priorities and this conviction should send a clear message to those seeking to circumvent the law.”
Anyone with information about illegal fishing in the Torres Strait or elsewhere in Australian waters should contact Border Watch at australia.gov.au/borderwatch, or contact local AFMA or ABF officers. Officers are stationed throughout the Torres Strait, including on Thursday Island.