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Ocean the new hotspot for criminals

Media Release

13 May 2005

Media release from Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald

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A report released today highlights the opportunities for criminal activity to occur in Australia's fisheries.

Australian Fisheries and Conservation Minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, said the report - Crime in the Australian Fishing Industry: Key Issues - turns the spotlight on the dangers to our fragile marine environment from a range of illegal activities.

"The report found that high-value species like sharks may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation by criminal cartels who target their lucrative fins," Senator Macdonald said.

"This is further proof that those fishermen targeting our well managed northern waters are no longer traditional village fishermen, and are often part of well-organised groups.

"They often have sophisticated equipment and, in recent times, authorities have noticed a trend of boats working together.

"Prices for dried shark fin in Asia have recently reached up to $600 a kilogram, a big incentive for criminals to turn their attention to the ocean."

Senator Macdonald said some of Australia's high-value fish stocks were found in isolated environments, which made surveillance difficult.

"The illegal trade of abalone has the capacity to be an extremely serious problem as it is hard to police," Senator Macdonald said.

"That's why we have to combine our efforts on the water with smart techniques at our docks to ensure we know the history of each and every catch."

The report found other species that may be increasingly targeted include eels, trepang and sea urchins - mostly because of their increasing popularity in many Asian markets.

"All four sectors of the Australian fishing industry (commercial, Indigenous, recreational and aquaculture) are vulnerable to criminal activity, including illegal operations by crime gangs," Senator Macdonald said.

"The report also highlights that opportunities for money laundering also exist within the fishing industry."