A $20,000 fine and conviction for illegal commercial fishing in the Gladstone region shows there are serious consequences for commercial operators repeatedly threatening Great Barrier Reef resilience.
The recent court action follows reoccuring incidents of breaking zoning rules at the Swains Reefs in December 2015 and February 2016.
On the first occasion, the commercial reef line master fisherman was caught by a surveillance aircraft with four dories from his primary vessel in green zones. Another dory was found in a green zone just two months later.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority field management acting director Chris Cochrane said the master was prosecuted under the Great Barrier Marine Park Regulations 1983, which prohibits dories from being in green zone (no-take) areas unless they remain tied to their primary vessel.
The court heard the master had been convicted on four previous occasions following detections of dories away from his primary vessel in Marine Park green zones.
“This case shows if you ignore the zoning rules, you will get caught and face serious consequences,” Mr Cochrane said.
“Those who continue to break the law and threaten Reef resilience face the risk of substantial fines and possible prosecution.
“Illegal fishing undermines the effectiveness of green zones, which were designed to protect the Reef.
“Knowing and respecting the zoning rules is particularly important now with the Reef’s health under pressure from consecutive years of mass coral bleaching, impacts from a severe cyclone, and an ongoing crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak.”
Mr Cochrane said there was strong evidence to show zoning contributed to healthy fish stocks and the overall health of the Reef.
“Research indicates Marine Park zoning — which came into effect in 2004 — is having a range of positive benefits, including allowing the offspring of fish living in green zones to spill over into other zones where they can be taken,” he said.
“There is also emerging science to suggest that reefs in green zones are more resilient to coral disease, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and severe weather, and can recover from impacts like cyclones faster than reefs outside green zones.
“It’s vital we respect rules that protect these areas and our iconic Great Barrier Reef more widely, so future generations can also enjoy it.”
Members of the public can also help protect the Reef by reporting suspected illegal activity in the Marine Park by calling the 24-hour hotline 1800 380 048 or emailing an incident report at www.gbrmpa.gov.au/report-an-incident. All reports are investigated.