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Second Court penalty to protect whales

16 January 2004

A second shark fisherman in South Australia has been fined for illegally fishing in an area of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park when it was closed to protect whales.

The Federal Court in Adelaide today ordered that Robert John Wilson pay a penalty of $12,500 for breaching the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, by entering the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.at a time when commercial fishing boats were banned from entering.

Last December, a Port Lincoln fisherman was ordered to pay $25,000 after his vessel was detected in the closed area near the Head of the Bight. Mr Wilson set nets towards the western end of the closed area.

The Head of the Bight is a nationally significant breeding ground for the endangered southern right whale. Areas near the Head of the Bight are closed to commercial fishers for six months during the whales' annual migration to avoid disturbance or injury by vessels and fishing gear.

Both incidents were detected during October 2001in a joint operation by the Australian Customs Service and National Parks and Wildlife South Australia.

The maximum penalty available for this type of action is $55,000.

In handing down its decision today the Court took into account Mr Wilson's claim that he did not know his vessel had drifted across the boundary of the closed area while he was setting fishing nets.

"This was a first offence. It was not deliberate," the Honourable Justice Brad Selway noted in his Reasons for Judgement.

"However, given the problems the respondent had in looking at his GPS system whilst setting his net and in the vessel being affected by drift and by wind, the respondent plainly took a risk in setting his line very close to the boundary of the Park," Justice Selway noted.

"His breach of the Act was the result at least of negligence and maybe of recklessness."

The Industry Representative on the Great Australian Bight Marine Park Consultative Committee, Roger Edwards, reiterated his support for the Government's action.

"We fully support the action of the Department of the Environment and Heritage in ensuring that the Marine Park is effectively managed," Mr Edwards said.

The decision is a pointed reminder that all commercial fishing vessels need to be aware of the high levels of protection for whales and their habitat in Australian waters.