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Fishing racket smashed

Friday, 12th April, 2019

NSW Fisheries Officers with some of the Golden Perch stolen from the Darling River, and a boat, trailer and gill nets seized from a property by Pomona near Wentworth. PICTURE: NSW DPI NSW Fisheries Officers with some of the Golden Perch stolen from the Darling River, and a boat, trailer and gill nets seized from a property by Pomona near Wentworth. PICTURE: NSW DPI

By Craig Brealey

An illegal fishing enterprise on the Darling River has been busted and a man charged with stealing and selling 12 tonnes of Golden Perch worth about $200,000.

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the fish was sold to businesses in Victoria and some was destined for a wholesaler in Melbourne. 

Some of it was taken from the Darling after the mass fish kills near Menindee, the NSW DPI Fisheries said yesterday. 

It is also alleged that the offences were committed along a 600-kilometre stretch of the river.

A 36-year-old man was arrested last month in a raid on his home on the river near Pomona, which is about nine kilometres from Wentworth.

It was the culmination of 20 months of intelligence gathering and high-level collaboration between NSW, Victoria and South Australia, said NSW DPI Fisheries.

Dubbed “Operation Weelsby”, the investigation was led by NSW DPI Fisheries and included the Victorian Fisheries Authority, Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, and the NSW Police Force.

“The interstate undercover operation was established to investigate the unlawful taking of Golden Perch from NSW and their subsequent sale in Victoria under the guise of having been taken lawfully from South Australian waters,” NSW DPI Director Fisheries Compliance, Patrick Tully, said yesterday.

“Illegal fishing like this is a real kick in the guts for a community already doing it tough because of the drought,” Mr Tully said.

On March 13, NSW DPI officers seized the man’s boat, motor and trailer, seven illegal gill nets, a quantity of fish and a mobile phone.

NSW Fisheries officers from Western NSW and the Statewide Operations and Investigations Group then teamed up with Victorian Fisheries Authority investigators and NSW Police to execute a search warrant at the man’s home. 

There, a further 101 Golden Perch weighing almost 150kg in a cool room on the property were seized, along with another eight gill nets, fish boxes, styrofoam boxes, scales and documentation. 

Four firearms and a quantity of ammunition were also found by police.

Simultaneously, Victorian Fisheries Authority investigators obtained records from several businesses in Victoria, including a fish wholesaler in Melbourne where it will be alleged the fish was going to be sold.

The Pomona man has been interviewed by NSW DPI Fisheries and faces a range of charges that carry maximum fines of up to $110,000 or 12 months’ jail, or both. 

Commercial fishing of native freshwater finfish, which includes Golden Perch, was phased out in NSW in 2001 due to concerns for the survival of native fish. 

However, Golden Perch can be grown legally and sold through the NSW native fish aquaculture industry, which is worth around $11.5 million a year. 

(DPI Fisheries said if anyone suspects illegal taking or selling of native fish in NSW, they should report it to the Fishers Watch phone line on 1800 043 536 or via the online Report Illegal Activity Form). 

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