A commercial fisher has been fined for being in a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park green zone without the main vessel.
A commercial fisher has been fined for being in a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park green zone without the main vessel. Contributed

Gladstone fisherman fined $20,000 for illegal reef fishing

A COMMERCIAL reef line master fisherman has been fined $20,000 and convicted for illegal commercial fishing on the Swains Reefs.

The recent court action followed recurring incidents where zone rules were broken in December 2015 and December 2016.

On the first instance, the master fisherman was caught by a surveillance aircraft with four dories from his primary vessel in green zones.

Another dory was found in a green zone just two months later.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) field management acting director Chris Cochrane said the Great Barrier Marine Park Regulations 1983 prohibits dories from being in green zone (no-take) areas unless they remain tied to their primary vessel.

The court heard the master had been convicted on four previous occasions and Mr Cochrane said the case showed there were serious consequences for ignoring zoning rules.

"Those who continue to break the law and threaten Reef resilience face the risk of substantial fines and possible prosecution," he said.

"Illegal fishing undermines the effectiveness of green zones, which were designed to protect the Reef.

"Knowing and respecting the zoning rules is particularly important now with the Reef's health under pressure from consecutive years of mass coral bleaching, impacts from a severe cyclone, and an ongoing crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak."

There is strong evidence to show that GBRMPA zoning, which came into effect in 2004, is contributing to healthy fish stocks and the overall health of the Reef.

"It's having a range of positive benefits, including allowing the offspring of fish living in green zones to spill over into other zones where they can be taken," Mr Cochrane said.

"There is also emerging science to suggest that reefs in green zones are more resilient to coral disease, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and severe weather, and can recover from impacts like cyclones faster than reefs outside green zones.

"It's vital we respect rules that protect these areas and our iconic Great Barrier Reef more widely, so future generations can also enjoy it."

Members of the public can help protect the Reef by reporting suspected illegal activity in the Marine Park by calling the 24-hour hotline 1800 380 048 or emailing an incident report at www.gbrmpa.gov.au/report-an-incident.

All reports are investigated.