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Western Australia: 32 crew members of Uruguayan fishing boat 'Maya 5' are each fined $1,000 for poaching of Patagonian Toothfish.

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Thursday 1 April 2004

Western Australia: 32 crew members of Uruguayan fishing boat 'Maya 5' are each fined $1,000 for poaching of Patagonian Toothfish


MARK COLVIN: More th an 30 crew members of a Uruguayan fishing vessel will be leaving Perth for home in the next few days after playing a role in an Australian legal first. 


The entire crew of the Maya 5 was charged with illegally poaching the prized Patagonian Toothfish, after the vessel was intercepted by HMAS Warramunga in January. 


The Maya 5 was found in Australia's exclusive economic zone about 4,000 kilometres south-west of Perth.  


David Weber reports. 


DAVID WEBER: The men were in a jovial mood this morning, laughing and slapping each other on the back as they entered the courtroom. They were clearly relieved that their involvement with the Australian legal system was coming to an end. 


Magistrate Douglas Jones said uncontrolled illegal fishing poses a serious risk to Australia's economic and environmental interests. He also referred to the high cost of detecting those involved in illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean.  


The Maya 5 was the eighth vessel in the region to be apprehended since October 1997. It had more than two hundred tonnes of the prized Patagonian Toothfish on board, worth around $3-million. 


The magistrate could have imposed a fine of more than $27,000. Instead, the penalty handed down was a $1,000 fine on each of the 32 crew-members in court today. They were also given a five-year good behaviour bond. 


The Manager of International Operations with Fisheries WA, Tom Morris, says he hopes the news goes around the world to deter other illegal fishers. 


TOM MORRIS: This sends a clear message to all would-be fisherman fishing illegally down there, that we intend to get you at the end of the day. And it really means that whether you're a crewman, whether you're a lowly deckie or anything, that if you're caught, you're going to suffer the consequences. 


DAVID WEBER: Is $1,000 each enough though? 


TOM MORRIS: I think it is. It's a good penalty. It's a personal requirement for them to pay $1,000 and the good behaviour bond is certainly there that should be a deterrent. 


DAVID WEBER: In terms of the pursuit, the prosecution, the incarceration, the Australian Government's spent a lot of money on this, yet they're only being forced to pay $1,000 each. The balance is in their favour I suppose. 


TOM MORRIS: Well, I can't comment on that. I don't know what the costs of the pursuit are. 


DAVID WEBER: What was the message you gave them at the end of the proceedings there? 


TOM MORRIS: Well I told them that they've been here long enough. We don't want to see them back here, and good luck and we hope that they are reunited with their families, and I mean it.  


DAVID WEBER: The 32 men went into immigration detention and will leave Australia over the next three-days. 


The court's yet to deal with some other crew members who haven't yet entered a plea, and a group of officers, including the Captain, Chief Mate, and Chief Engineer who are likely to face stiffer penalties.  


In the past, it was only the officers who were targeted under Australian law.  


The Fisheries Minister, Senator Ian Macdonald says now they will be the focus of recovery actions. 


IAN MACDONALD: The cost is certainly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even more, but remember upon conviction and then the boat itself will be forfeited to Australia, and that could be worth anything from $2-6-million, the catch, which I believe is being offered for sale this week, would be worth something in the vicinity of $3-million, that would be forfeited to the Australian Government as well. 


DAVID WEBER: New laws mean that operators of boats caught in the future could be liable to pay the costs of the chase. The long pursuit of the Viarsa last year brought home the potential financial commitment that the Government has made in trying to protect the Patagonian Toothfish. 


Senator Macdonald says Uruguay is also committed to ending illegal poaching. 


IAN MACDONALD: The Uruguayan Government is very concerned about the reputation that Uruguay is getting because of some of its flag of convenience, one might almost say, flagged vessels that do the wrong thing around the world. 


MARK COLVIN: Senator Ian Macdonald, ending David Weber's report.