29 alleged illegal fishing boats

29 alleged illegal fishing boats seized A huge multi-agency operation in Australia’s northern waters has netted 29 illegal fishing boats and interrupted an organised, international racket, the federal government has said.

As a result of the blitz, 64 people will be charged – and the government may look in the future at finding alternative employment for would-be illegal fishermen in Indonesian villages.

The illegal fishing vessels captured to the north of Arnhem Land, in the Gulf of Carpentaria and other locations during Operation Clearwater, were Indonesian and many were working together, Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald and Justice Minister Chris Ellison said.

The recently concluded 11-day operation was the largest targeting Australian border incursions by illegal fishers.

It involved customs, navy, air force, army, coastwatch, state and immigration officials as well as Indonesian customs and fisheries officers.

Warning shots and navy boarding parties were necessary in a number of the seizures which recovered more than 12 tonnes of fish, 300 kg of shark fin, 600 shark pieces and more than 87 km of longlines.

Fifteen of the captured boats, known as ice boats, had the capacity to store fresh fish.

“As a result of this blitz, 64 people will be charged with fishing illegally in Australian waters, with a further 16 individuals still under investigation,” Senator Macdonald said.

“(A total of) 96 minor crew members have so far been repatriated to Indonesia and 81 are in the process of being repatriated.”

The boats have effectively been forfeited to the Australian government, which may destroy them or sell them, Senator Macdonald said.

“And it has also been suggested to me that perhaps we could be using some of these boats as part of our tsunami relief effort.”

Senator Macdonald said the government took three months to plan the operation, and it sent a clear message to others contemplating illegal fishing.

“Certainly we have severely impeded the illegal fishing racket,” he said.

“There may be other vessels around thinking about it but they should be well warned that we are very serious and Operation Clearwater is just one of the efforts we have in place to stamp out illegal fishing.”

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