04 November 2005

Australia: Illegal shark hunters use hit-and-run tactics

A new Indonesian fleet of more than 400 speedboats is taking thousands of sharks from northern Australian waters, and is behind a recent upsurge in illegal fishing.

An Australian Government study, obtained by the Herald, warns that the so-called Bodi fleet presents a big threat to the marine environment and protected shark species.

The study, compiled by Professor James Fox of the Australian National University, and based on interviews with Indonesian fishermen, i warns that many more of the small, fast boats - designed to avoid capture by Australian authorities - are being produced.

The Bodi fleet is catching large numbers of shark to slice off their valuable fins for the Asian market, with a haul valued at well over $50 million a year.

The boats operate independently of larger so-called ice boats, fishing for red snapper, which have been the focus of Australian complaints of organised criminal exploitation of fishing grounds.

The Indonesian Government is resisting Australian pressure to control the poaching, saying that the fishermen are using only traditional methods and mistakenly drifting into Australian waters.

Professor Fox told the Herald there were no Bodi boats fishing Australian waters two years ago, but there were now more than 400 based in Papela port, on the island of Rote, alone. The boats are cheap to make, are built all over eastern Indonesia, and "will be coming out of other ports soon", he said.

Australian authorities have apprehended 39 of the boats "and they haven't yet dented the fleet", Professor Fox added.

The report describes the Bodi boats as "sleek, narrow boats, each equipped with high-powered outboard engines … The purpose of these boats is to make quick incursions into Australian waters."

The Indonesian Fisheries Minister, Freddy Numberi, said that if the boats strayed into Australian waters they did so accidentally. Their crews should not be arrested, he said this week.

Mr Numberi's claim that the fishermen might be lost left Professor Fox incredulous.

"They know damn well where they are - they are professional fishermen," he said.

Professor Fox rejected claims that the new Bodi fleet was part of a large, transnational crime syndicate. However, a second fleet of larger ice boats appeared to be organised by large Chinese fishing corporations, he said.

These boats, which have violently resisted Australian boarding attempts recently, are using modern technology to fish for high-value red snapper.

New data obtained from the Department of Immigration yesterday showed that 2047 illegal fishermen were detained between July 1, last year and October 14, this year.

Indonesia's consul in Perth, Dr Aloysius Madja, yesterday criticised the way his country's fishermen had been treated, saying their arrest and detainment breached international law. Dr Madja said Australia hadfailed to tell the Indonesian Government about the arrests made during the recent poaching blitz.

He also said burning boats and confiscating fishing equipment only worsened the poverty of fisher families.

A spokesman for the Minister for Fisheries, Ian Macdonald, said the Federal Government would not discuss matters of a diplomatic nature.

Source: www.smh.com.au


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