The occupants of an illegal Vietnamese fishing boat have been detained in Cairns. Courtesy: Department of Immigration and Border Protection
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VIETNAMESE fishermen have been apprehended off the coastline of Cairns with a haul of nearly 2.5 tonnes of poached sea cucumbers.
Fifteen crew members were on board the vessel that was caught near Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea, about 630km southeast of Cairns, by Maritime Border Command (MBC).
The boat was spotted by an MBC surveillance aircraft on February 3 and later pursued by Australian Border Force cutter Storm Bay.
The crew and their vessel were apprehended and taken to Cairns yesterday for further investigation by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Parks Australia for breaking environmental and fisheries laws.
The 2.4 tonnes of sea cucumbers and 10 large dried fish, that were also seized, were disposed of at sea.
It is the 10th foreign boat caught since July last year with a majority snared in northern Australian waters.
MBC acting commander Stephen Alexander said it should serve as a warning to illegal foreign fishers that this behaviour would not be tolerated in Australian waters.
“Australia’s maritime domain exceeds 10 million square kilometres, but no matter where these boats are, our officers will continue to work tirelessly and, in collaboration with our partners, to ensure that Australia’s waters remain free from illegal fishing,” he said.
Parks Australia marine compliance director Dr Andrew Read said Lihou Reef had been a sanctuary since 1982 and was one of the nation’s most pristine reef ecosystems.
“Ensuring illegal fishing activities, including foreign fishing are stopped, is essential for the protection and conservation of this highly valued marine habitat,” he said.
In recent months there has been a spike in the number of Vietnamese fishing vessels sighted and apprehended in Australia’s northeastern waters, and the waters of Papua New Guinea, Palau and New Caledonia.
The activity is being driven by increased prices for sea cucumbers on the world market.