One of the largest fisheries enforcement operations undertaken in Victoria’s history has cracked an alleged seafood trafficking syndicate operating in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Department of Environment and Primary Industries and Victoria Police officers yesterday executed 12 search warrants, arresting 14 people for alleged offences related mainly to the illegal sale of abalone, rock lobster and other shellfish.
It is alleged that over the past 12 months, the abalone, rock lobster and shellfish were taken from coastal waters in South West Victoria, transported to Melbourne and sold on the black market.
Following yesterday’s arrests, DEPI and Victoria Police seized 12 vehicles and a large quantity of cash, froze assets associated with properties worth millions of dollars and laid numerous charges.
DEPI Fisheries Acting Director of Education and Enforcement Ian Parks said the joint operation, codenamed Operation Quantum, involved 75 DEPI officers and months of planning.
“The illegal take and sale of fish resources, or theft of a public resource, is a threat to the sustainability of Victoria’s fisheries,” Mr Parks said.
“The black market unfairly competes with legitimately sourced product in the market place, compromises food safety and leads to revenue loss for community services.
“Trafficking in priority fish species, such as abalone, rock lobster, southern bluefin tuna and Murray cod is an indictable offence, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.”
Mr Parks said the charges laid included trafficking in commercial quantities of abalone, conspiracy and dealing in proceeds of crime.
The 14 individuals have been bailed to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court later this month.
Mr Parks said detecting, investigating and dismantling serious organised fisheries crime was a high priority for DEPI.
The DEPI Fisheries Victoria Statewide Investigations Group worked with Victoria Police and was supported by Warrnambool fisheries officers throughout Operation Quantum.
DEPI works closely with Victoria Police, the Office of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice as part of Victoria’s asset confiscation scheme.
Victoria’s asset confiscation scheme aims to ensure that “crime doesn’t pay” by disrupting criminal enterprises and deterring criminal activity.