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Commercial Prawn Trawler Alleged to Have Illegally Modified Nets

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AUSTRALIA - A north coast commercial fisher has been detected allegedly covering bycatch reduction devices on prawn nets when fishing at night in ocean waters on the Mid North Coast.

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Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Director of Fisheries Compliance, Glenn Tritton, said fisheries officers operating from the ocean patrol vessel Ngaarru found the alleged illegal modifications when they boarded a commercial prawn trawling vessel around six kilometres offshore.

Fisheries officers allege that the skipper deliberately modified the bycatch reduction devices on his prawn trawl nets, he said.

The actions of the skipper rendered the devices ineffective, thus preventing fish bycatch from escaping the prawn trawl nets".

DPI will be taking action against the skipper. For an individual, this offence carries a maximum fine of $22,000 and up to six months imprisonment for a first offence, and $44,000 and 12 months imprisonment for subsequent offences.

"Clearly the fisher was not expecting to get checked by fisheries officers in the middle of the night.

The NSW Ocean Trawl fishery is managed under specific arrangements to minimise bycatch of non-target and prohibited size species.

Mr Tritton said commercial fishers are expected to understand the rules that apply to their fisheries.

The majority of commercial fishers follow the rules and strongly support to need to fish in a sustainable way to help ensure the long term viability of fisheries resources, he said.

These arrangement include a requirement to use a bycatch reduction device known as a composite square mesh panel.

This panel consists of a large square shaped mesh sewn into the top of the trawl net and placed at a point where water flow through the net allows unwanted fish to escape.

Fisheries officers will continue to conduct patrols in this fishery and are under instruction to pay particular attention to bycatch reduction devices.

These offences are treated as very serious and we will pursue offenders to the full extent of the regulations.