A DIVER accused of using a gaff to catch two crayfish has been cleared of the charge and awarded $7700 in legal costs.
Timothy John Goodall, 56, of Lava Street, Warrnambool, told fisheries officers he had simply ‘‘tickled’’ the fish to catch them.
But after finding the gaff (a fishing hook) under the boat they issued him with an infringement notice for $597.
Yesterday magistrate Ian von Einem found that there was not enough evidence to prove the fisheries officers’ claims.
Fisheries officer Troy Duthie said at an earlier court hearing that on January 13 last year he had been on patrol off the coast of Warrnambool in a rubber boat when at 11.10am he saw a white vessel which belonged to Mr Goodall anchored off Eagle Rock Reef.
He said he asked Mr Goodall how he had gone and then offered to measure his two crayfish, which were in a yellow catch bag.
Mr Duthie said the two smallish crayfish were extremely sluggish and he asked Mr Goodall if he had hypnotised them. He said he then noticed damage to the underside of the tail of one and damage to the chest of another.
The officer said he indicated to his fellow officer Lenny O’Brien that something was not right and Mr O’Brien entered the water. Mr Duthie said he then started a search of Mr Goodall’s boat and scuba gear before Mr O’Brien surfaced with a metal gaff.
He said he then conducted an interview with Mr Goodall who said he had tickled the crayfish and made them raise their heads before he grabbed them.
Mr Duthie, who has been a fisheries officer for nine years and has dived 20 to 30 times a year for the past 16 years, said the explanation of how Mr Goodall had caught the crayfish was “farcical”.
“I could not imagine a rock lobster sitting still for long enough for that to occur,” he said.
The officer said he had seen crayfish lose legs and even suffer horn damage being caught but never puncture wounds like he observed that day.
Mr Duthie said when asked about the gaff found on the ocean floor, Mr Goodall said he often saw items on the sea bed when he was swimming around.
He said Mr Goodall denied using the gaff, but when tested by the offices the instrument penetrated the wounds on both crayfish without touching the sides. The defence solicitor questioned whether Mr Duthie had the experience or expertise to give evidence about the wounds to the crayfish.
In his evidence, Mr Goodall said he had been diving for more than 40 years, including three years as a professional diver.
He explained in detail his method of catching crayfish in difficult positions, a method he described as “tickling”.
He said the sluggish state of the crayfish was not unusual and was attributable to the coldness of the water that day and the hour or so they had been underwater in the catch bag with missing legs and feelers.
Mr Goodall had pleaded not guilty in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court in December to possessing commercial fishing equipment.