A director of the Abalone Council of Australia says the recent seizure of 3300 abalone as part of a joint NSW Police and Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Fisheries operation is proof of cultural fishing being used as a “front” to conceal commercial activities.
The statement comes just two weeks after the largest abalone seizure in more than 20 years involving a 59-year-old Mogo man and Sydney-based receivers.
Authorities will allege the man was involved in the trafficking of “illicit abalone” worth $57,000 to a residence in Sydney’s South-West when he was intercepted in late January.
“It just confirms that they’re using their cultural fishing as a front to market huge quantities into the illegal market,” John Smythe told the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner.
“Any commercial take has to be within the bounds of regulations or rules set for sustainability. For example with size limits, a lot of those abalone were under size, which threatens the long-term sustainability of the resource.”
An Abalone Association of NSW spokesperson said cultural catch was “being used as a guise for a complex criminal syndicate”.
It just confirms that they’re using their cultural fishing as a front to market huge quantities into the illegal market.- John Smythe, Abalone Council of Australia
“This is further evidence of a blatant disregard for Fisheries legislation designed to conserve and protect a public resource that has moved from a fishery ‘in recovery’ to a sustainable status,” the association said.
The association said under current regulations Indigenous groups were permitted to catch up to 10 abalone a day, which is five times the recreational limit.
Mr Smythe said the DPI regulations surrounding cultural fishing were “in no way intended to be commercial”.
“The cultural use is for their own personal use and not commercial use,” Mr Smythe said.
“If one person catches 3000 abalone or 300 people catch 10 abalone each, then you’ve opened up a Pandora’s box.”
Allegations that 645 of the abalone were of prohibited size was cause for great concern Mr Smythe said, despite counter-claims from the NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights Group that the activity was sustainable.
“Abalone fisheries are better off setting a size limit,” Mr Smythe said.
“Our main concern is resource management and how we can stop practices which may impact on the resource.”
No formal charges have been laid since the Sydney arrest.