Customs fires shots in illegal fishing

Customs fires shots in illegal fishing pursuit
Customs authorities are resorting to machine guns to catch illegal fishermen off the north Australian coast.

Authorities fired shots from a 50 millimetre calibre machine gun at one boat captured recently, after the captain resisted arrest.

Brian Hurrell from Customs says fishermen are increasingly turning aggressive.

“I wouldn’t say violence, I’d say the threat of violence,” he said.

Mr Hurrell says officers are trained to deal with aggressive fishermen.

“At times they’re using what we call anti-boarding devices, which means in the case of one or two of these vessels, putting out poles around the boat to stop our boarding teams coming alongside,” he said.

“And also perhaps trailing some things from the stern of the vessel, to stop us coming up along from behind the vessel to get on board.”

The Federal Government suspects organised crime gangs in Asia are to blame, driven by a depletion of the region’s own fish stocks.

Mark O’Flanagan, who led the recent operation, says the boats caught had full hulls.

“One had six tonnes of fish in it, the other one had approximately four tonnes of fish,” he said.

An armed patrol boat, normally used against poachers in Antarctica, has now been brought in to help in the fight.

The Prime Minister says Customs authorities are well equipped to deal with illegal fishing in Australian waters and there is no need for more resources.

Politicians from three states have been calling for more funding to fight the threat, but Mr Howard has told ABC local radio in Perth the Government has already invested a great deal in Customs.

“What you’re seeing at the moment is the system working,” he said.

“We are stopping them. We’re stopping the illegal fishing vessels. We’re actually operating to enforce Australia’s rights.”

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