Five men have been arrested after allegedly being caught with nearly 400 sea snails on the Mornington Peninsula on Wednesday 8 March.
Victorian Fisheries Authority director of education and enforcement Ian Parks said the highly organised illegal fishing syndicate from Pakenham, Cranbourne East and Botanic Ridge had illegally captured blacklip abalone at Cape Schanck.
The group was apprended and a car seized by 12 fisheries officers with support from Victoria Police.
“This type of alleged illegal fishing has the potential to do serious damage to the sustainability of Victoria’s abalone population, which is highly valued by commercial and recreational fishers,” Mr Parks said.
He said Fisheries officers saw four of the men walk from the car park down to the rocks, as one stayed back as a lookout.
It’s alleged three entered the water for several hours to dive for abalone while the fourth acted as a look out.
Mr Parks said when the four men returned to their Commodore and allegedly put a large bag of abalone in the boot, Fisheries officers swooped in numbers.
He said all five of the alleged men ran away, some not making it far while others hid in dense scrub nearby until being located and arrested.
Officers found a bag in a car boot allegedly containing 315 abalone.
“However officers who’d done surveillance on the men suspected more abalone had been harvested, so entered the water to search,” he said.
Officers allegedly found two more bags containing another 84 abalone, making 399 in total, 263 of which were undersize.
Fisheries officers returned all the abalone to the water alive and Victoria Police transported the men to the Rosebud Police Station.
The men have been charged under the Fisheries Act including taking and possessing a commercial quantity of a priority species, trafficking a commercial quantity of a priority species, and obstructing and hindering authorised officers.
“I commend all the Fisheries Officers involved in this case for their extensive and professional work to stop this well organised and slick crew of illegal fishers from stealing aquatic natural resources that belong to the Victorian community,” Mr Parks said.