16 September 2005

Australia: Shark poachers increasing in New South Wales

INCREASING Asian demand for shark fin soup is leading to fishing boats sneakily catching sharks in NSW waters.

Commercial fishermen are allegedly cutting the fins off sharks and throwing their bodies back into the water – a barbaric, cruel and wasteful act which is banned in Australia.

While millions of dollars are being spent on surveillance in waters between Indonesia and Australia, where shark finning is prevalent, there is little funding in our own backyard.

The Federal and State Government is playing a blame game as to who is responsible for investigating recent allegations about commercial fishermen shark finning while at sea.

If it happens within 3km of the NSW coast it's a state problem – anything outside that perimeter is a Commonwealth responsibility.

A message posted recently on a fishing website which claimed commercial fishermen in Ballina are at the forefront of shark finning for the Asian market has ignited the issue.

The person who posted the message said a fisherman in Ballina was selling shark fins for $225/kg, averaging around 100kg a week from long-lines.

"Depressing stuff to hear about shaving 'em (cutting the fins off) and chucking the barrels (finless bodies) back," the fisherman said.

These claims were supported by a Ballina fisherman, who did not want to be named, who blamed long-line tuna fisherman for illegal shark finning.

The fisherman said Asian buyers from Sydney and Brisbane were travelling to Yamba, Evans Head and Iluka to buy shark fins from tuna boats operating between Cairns in Queensland and Port Lincoln in South Australia.

He said there were about six Asian companies who were currently buying from those wharfs.

"By law you need to land the body before cutting off the fins but these guys are cutting them off at sea and throwing away the carcass," the fisherman said.

When The Daily Telegraph spoke to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), the body who polices federal waters, it would not disclose whether it was investigating the activity in NSW waters.

But a AFMA spokesman said it took this issue seriously and would investigate any allegations.

"We are not specifically aware of those incidents but we encourage members of the public to report it immediately," the spokesman said.

NSW Fisheries and the state's Primary Industries Minister, Ian MacDonald, were unaware of anything illegal happening off its coast.

"We have not received any complaints but we have prosecuted a number of people for shark finning in the last couple of years," a spokeswoman from the minister's office said.

Under the Commonwealth Fisheries Act vessels are only allowed to catch 20 sharks per trip as by-catch.

The federal penalties for illegal shark finning is up to $27,500 while if found guilty in NSW a person could face a jail sentence.

Earlier this month AFMA released alarming figures that stated there were on average 22 sighting of foreign fishing vessels in Australian waters each day.

There had also been a 60 per cent increase in the number of foreign vessels seized in the past 12 months.

Source: dailytelegraph.news.com.au


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