Eddie Melody says there are plenty of people fishing the green zones in Mackay chasing red emperor for the black market.
Eddie Melody says there are plenty of people fishing the green zones in Mackay chasing red emperor for the black market. Troy Kippen

Fishy dealings at sea as black market spreads in region

SLADE Point commercial fisherman Eddie Melody reckons Queensland Fisheries will never be able to stop the black market seafood trade, despite a proposed increase to penalties to stop the problem.

"When they do go to court they get a slap on the wrist," Mr Melody says, adding the black trade for seafood is rife in the Mackay region.

A new State Government discussion paper is designed to tackle this problem, and includes an increase to fines for those caught illegally selling their catch.

According to the Fisheries Act, in Queensland, licensed commercial fishers are the only people who can legally sell the produce they catch.

In the past three years, there have been 104 complaints of alleged seafood black marketing in North Queensland, an area covering Townsville, Ingham, Airlie Beach and Mackay, with six offences detected and nine infringement notices issued.

Three Fisheries Infringement Notices were issued to seafood outlets/restaurants who were unable to produce a docket or did not acquire a docket.

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"The Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol receives regular complaints about black marketing from the public, but it is sometimes difficult to follow through with the current powers inspectors have," a DAF spokesperson said.

"There is some evidence that illegal fishing operations are becoming more sophisticated and organised, particularly in high-value low volume fisheries such as mud crab, shark fin, coral trout, Spanish mackerel and tropical rock lobster."

Mr Melody agreed the black marketers were getting more sophisticated, and were now unloading their catch before they get back to the boat ramp.

"We had one bloke at the harbour reporting boats that would go out more than once a week," he said.

"They caught a few like that, but then (the illegal fishermen) started using different ramps throughout the week and smaller boats would run out to them and unload before they came ashore."

He said it was getting worse because there was not enough policing. "There is no real deterrent," he said. "They will never be able to stop it."

He said the illegal operators were targeting prime species such as Spanish mackerel and red emperor in the Mackay area. "Red emperor is easier to catch at night," he said.

Some of the proposed reforms include creating an indictable offence for trafficking in priority fisheries resources with persons convicted potentially facing a penalty of up to 3000 penalty units (currently $378,450) and up to three years imprisonment.

All discussion papers are open for public feedback until 5pm on May 20 and can be seen at daf.qld.gov.au/sustainablefisheriesstrategy.