Australia’s illegal fishing crackdown leads to PNG national detainments

Two banana boats from Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been apprehended in the Torres Strait by Australian authorities for suspected illegal fishing.

The Australian Border Force (ABF), working under the operational command of Maritime Border Command (MBC), apprehended the first vessel earlier this month in the shallow waters of Saibai Island, in the far north of Torres Strait. 

Four PNG nationals were later interviewed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) in relation to unlicensed commercial fishing for crab and tropical rock lobster. The boat, the catch, and the equipment onboard were seized.

The second vessel was sighted by an MBC surveillance aircraft on 15 March inside the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ), and was intercepted by an ABF vessel near Warrior Reef.

A crew of four was found to be in possession of 80 tropical rock lobster tails, far in excess of the permitted quantity of six. Their boat, catch, and equipment were seized, and the master and crew were handed over to PNG officials for further investigation. 

Under the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty, PNG nationals suspected of fishing illegally in Australian waters are repatriated to PNG for processing.

Evidence packs for both apprehensions were supplied to PNG officials to assist with prosecutions.

“We are aware of the additional considerations that need to be taken into account under the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty, to allow the traditional way of life for PNG villagers and Torres Strait islanders to continue,” said Peter Venslovas, general manager of operations at AFMA.

“However, these considerations will not prevent swift and decisive action from being taken when necessary, and there will be no leeway given to those who break the law.”

When it comes to fishing rights, the Torres Strait Treaty fulfills the following key functions:

  • Ensures that commercial fishing in the TSPZ is in harmony with traditional fishing
  • Provides for commercial fishing by both Australia and PNG
  • Includes arrangements for the sharing of the commercial catch
  • Allows both countries to work together in licensing and policing, as well as in the preservation, protection and management of fisheries

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