Asia Dive News :
ocean poaching doubles
The number of Indonesian boats caught fishing illegally in Australian waters has more than doubled in a year.
A total of 607 illegal boats were seized last year, compared with 289 in 2004, according to figures released yesterday by federal Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald.
The figures show there has been a 600 per cent increase since 2000 in the number of boats caught fishing illegally.
Senator Macdonald blamed the rise on surging demand for shark fin, which now commands record prices in Asian restaurants and markets.
"This increase in the number of illegal fishermen in northern Australia is due to an increased presence on the water of navy and Customs officers, as well as increased activity by illegal fishermen," he said.
Shark fin is the preferred catch for the poachers, but in recent weeks illegal Indonesian vessels have also targeted reef fish and trochus shell, threatening one of the few sources of independent income for the Bardi Aboriginal people living at One Arm Point, north of Broome.
On Monday, the year's first batch of 41 illegal Indonesian fishermen arrived in Broome after two of their boats were detected hidden in the mangroves off Cleft Island, at the entrance to King Sound, on the remote Kimberley coast.
On Boxing Day, another Indonesian boat with 19 crew was detected southeast of Caffarelli Island, north of Broome. It was caught by HMAS Fremantle, and the Indonesians were taken to Broome for questioning.
In a sign of a hardening attitude by the federal Government, all three Indonesian boats were destroyed at sea.
A total of 4500kg of trochus shell was confiscated and returned to the reef, said Broome Customs spokesman Peter Constantino. The haul, believed to have been collected in two days, falls just short of the annual quota for trochus shell allocated to the Bardi community.
The community has appealed for the Government to take urgent action to protect the coast and their livelihood. Similar calls have come from isolated indigenous communities scattered along the Arnhem Land coast.
In Broome, commercial fishermen angered at what they perceive to be government inaction to protect the fragile shark fishery have threatened to take the law into their own hands by arming themselves.
And questions have been raised about the effectiveness of airborne radar in detecting the small wooden boats being used by the Indonesians.
"While the Australian Government hopes for the day when illegal fishermen no longer come into our waters, until then we will keep apprehending them with the record amount of assets we currently deploy," Senator Macdonald said. "We should also see the result of our off-the-water efforts begin to pay dividends in the years ahead.
"Indonesia has agreed to play its part in helping to reduce the need for these fishermen to come into our well-managed waters."
Indonesia agreed last month to join Australia in conducting joint patrols, to provide more land-based police and to work with Canberra to emphasise the seriousness of illegal fishing.
According to yesterday's figures, border protection authorities arrested 280 illegal fishing vessels last year and confiscated the fishing gear and catch of a further 327 Indonesian boats.
A total of 2175 Indonesians were detained last year, all caught fishing illegally in Australia's northern waters.
Source: The Australian