Crab thefts cost Ballina thousands
THE Ballina fishing industry is losing tens of thousands of dollars each year because crabs are being stolen from crab pots and recreational fishers are illegally selling their catches to food outlets.
Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op manager Phillip Hilliard said the loss was an ongoing problem, with Ken Thurlow, CEO of recreational fishing lobby group ECOfishers, saying the snatching of seafood was the ‘second-oldest profession in the world’.
Mr Hilliard said the co-op lost an estimated $10,000 over the Christmas holiday period with some cancelled orders, and an assumption that fish caught by recreational fishers had hit the market.
He said crab pots were easy targets as it was an Industry and Investment NSW Fisheries requirement they have buoys with the owner’s name.
Mr Hilliard said the problem was worse in the holiday periods as the thefts could be blamed on tourists.
“All you do is find it, pull it up and grab what’s in it,” he said. “They’re a very easy target.”
Mr Hilliard said many of the thieves damaged the crab pots, which cost about $100 each for the commercial fishers to replace.
He also said seafood outlets and restaurants could only buy fish from a licensed fisher, who had to produce a licence.
“That proves to the buyer that the fish have been treated properly and are not just thrown in the back of a truck at 30 degrees Celsius,” he said.
Ballina has five commercial fishers who work the river and eight trawlers.
Currently, the river fishers are hauling mullet, so there are fewer crab pots out.
But during the peak times there could be as many as 60 commercial crab pots in the Richmond River.
Mr Hilliard said the Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op generated about $6 million annually.
Mr Thurlow, of Byron Bay, said his group was opposed to the illegal trade of fish and crabs.
“It’s is a finite resource that depends on sustainable use,” he said. “We don’t support any behaviour of that kind. We will report it.”
Mr Hilliard encouraged boaties to keep an eye out for suspicious activity around crab pots, and to report it to either the police, NSW Fisheries, or to the co-op.
He also said restaurateurs should know the regulations and not buy fish from unlicensed recreational fishers, and there were heavy penalties for those who did.
A spokesperson for Industry and Investment NSW said Fisheries officers had been actively targeting offenders engaged in the illegal use and interference of commercial crab traps.
“A number of offenders have been detected over the past six months in the Ballina area for a range of offences, including taking prohibited-size mud cabs, exceeding bag limits, using excess crab traps and interfering with set fishing gear,” the spokesperson said.
Reports of illegal or suspect fishing can be made to the Fishers Watch phoneline on 1800 043 536.