New catch limits to counter abalone pirates

LARGE-SCALE exploitation of recreational abalone catch limits in the south-west by visiting poachers has prompted the state government to tighten regulations.

Premier and member for South West Coast Denis Napthine said Melbourne-based “abalone pirates” were operating quasi-commercial operations in recent months to take dozens of abalone and thousands of other shellfish on daily trips to the south-west.

Western Abalone Divers Association (WADA) executive officer Harry Peeters said the groups were colloquially known in the Port Fairy area as the “Five a Day Crew”.

Mr Peeters said the group usually travelled in cars carrying five people in each vehicle.

He estimated it had taken two tonnes of abalone and 3000 litres of periwinkles in the past three months from the Port Fairy area.

WADA chairman Phil Plummer of Port Fairy said the Five a Day Crew was “there every morning at 7am and they leave at 9am with a car loaded with abalone”. 

“It’s the same group each time.”

Mr Peeters said the group had stripped abalone from bays on Griffiths Island and was extending its operation to bays west of Port Fairy.

To combat exploitation of the resource, the government has reduced the take limit to 10 abalone per vehicle, while keeping the existing limit of five abalone a person.

The recreational take limit on other shellfish such as periwinkles, dogwinkles, snails and limpets has also been limited to 10 litres a vehicle to fight the overfishing.

A two-litre vehicle limit will apply to shellfish other than abalone if the shellfish have been removed from their shells.

Dr Napthine said overfishing by the Melbourne group was occurring as the south-west’s abalone resource was struggling to recover from a virus that devastated stocks in 2006.

He said Fisheries officers would be vigorously enforcing the new regulations.

Mr Peeters commended the state government for taking decisive action to protect the valuable abalone resource.

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