GLADSTONE'S rich outer reefs are being watched as Vietnamese fishermen continue to plunder our sea cucumber stocks.
A crew of 15 fishermen yesterday become the fifth group to be remanded off Saumarez Reef, 150km off Gladstone's shore, since November.
Accused of illegal fishing, the crew were found on board with 17 200-litre drums filled with sea cucumbers.
The crew was caught by Maritime Border Command, a multi-agency task force within the Australian Border Force (ABF), working in co-operation with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), which escorted the vessel to Auckland Point in Gladstone.
MBC commander rear admiral Peter Laver said the capture was another successful outcome following Australian Government agencies' concerted efforts to detect and stop illegal fishing in Australian waters. The crew was detained in Gladstone yesterday after being brought to shore by ABF's cutter Cape Jervis.
"The enormous Australian maritime domain is subject to surveillance 24 hours a day, and we remain highly responsive to any attempts to engage in theft of this nature," Mr Laver said.
Australian Border Force Gladstone district commander Ben Long said while there has been an increase in Vietnamese fishing activity, it's smaller than previously dealt with.
"Since March 2016 there's been 14 Vietnamese fishing vessels that have been intercepted and processed but in comparison to 10 years ago, we had 300 vessels in one year," Mr Long said.
Some Vietnamese fishing crews are travelling more than 6000km to illegally poach Australia's sea cucumbers. Considered a delicacy in China, they can fetch between $10-70 per kilogram.
Mr Long said it was a combination of tougher policing of the Asian oceans, low fish stocks and increased sea cucumber prices that has driven the crewmen further ashore to Australian waters.
"This is a lucrative market they're targeting," he said.
AFMA and Parks Australia are investigating for breaches of the Australian Fisheries Management Act 1991 and Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Penalties for illegal fishing include maximum fines of $1.35m and forfeiture of vessels, catch andequipment.
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