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Bid to Beat Black Market Oysters

AUSTRALIA - An operation designed to deter oyster theft and protect consumers against potentially unsafe black market produce is being stepped up during the festive season.

Operation Trident includes ongoing covert and overt operations up and down the New South Wales coast, and involves the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the NSW Food Authority and the NSW Police Force.

NSW DPI Manager Fisheries Compliance Glenn Tritton said Operation Trident is a high tech operation that aims to break up the black market which is responsible for ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of oysters across NSW each year.

"We've had some recent success this season with three men apprehended near Limeburners Creek at Port Macquarie last week in possession of 300 oysters allegedly stolen from a commercial growers lease.

"The men now face various charges which carry maximum fines of up to $11,000 and six months imprisonment.

"A series of operations will be conducted across the state to coincide with the Christmas New Year holiday period, which is the peak season for seafood and oyster consumption.

"Since its launch in April last year, Operation Trident has achieved great success across the State.

"Reports from oyster farmers indicate that theft numbers are down, thanks to the heightened awareness resulting from Operation Trident."

NSW Farmers Oyster Committee Chair Mark Bulley said he applauds the success of the Operation over the last 18 months.

"There has been a reduction in the amount of oyster theft as a result of the surveillance and the heightened awareness due to Operation Trident," he said.

"The NSW Oyster Industry is keen to work in conjunction with the government agencies involved in a combined effort to stamp out oyster theft."

Mr Tritton said the three-pronged coordinated approach by the NSW DPI, NSW Food Authority and NSW Police Force will allow the agencies to share resources, intelligence and information that will better enable them to catch those responsible for ripping off hard working oyster farmers.

NSW Food Authority Director General Alan Coutts said the black market oyster trade not only impacted the livelihood of primary producers, but could pose a health risk to consumers as well.

"Stolen oysters that have not been covered by the NSW Shellfish Program are not monitored for their quality,” Mr Coutts said.

"So at this time of year in particular, when oysters and seafood are in strong demand, it is a timely reminder for consumers to only buy oysters from a reputable supplier.

"Oysters purchased from reputable suppliers are safe."

Superintendent Mark Hutchings of the NSW Police Force, Marine Area Command said a range of high tech equipment and intelligence gathering will be utilised in operations throughout key oyster producing areas.

"The NSW Police Force and NSW DPI will utilise state of the art surveillance gear including infra red cameras and other intelligence gathering equipment during Operation Trident," he said.

"Would be oyster thieves are on notice that the considerable resources of these three agencies will be targeting you and the net is about to tighten.

Members of the public are urged to call Crime Stoppers if they have any information about oyster theft and the black market trade.

"We are seeking the community's involvement in this, if someone approaches you in a pub or if you run a restaurant and someone tries to flog you cheap oysters, ring Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 and help us put an end to this potentially dangerous scam," said Superintendent Hutchings.

Fisheries Officers have also distributed information and posters to hotels, pubs and clubs up and down the coast as part of Operation Trident.

the Fish Site Editor

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