Abalone ring leader jailed for 2 years

THE ring-leader of an elaborate illegal abalone syndicate was sentenced today in the County Court to 23 months and 14 days jail, with a non-parole period of 12 months.

Acting Director of Fisheries Enforcement and Education, Bob Hutton, said the 41 year old female from St Albans was also convicted and banned indefinitely from all fishing activity, ordered to pay $18,007 and had her late model Toyota forfeited.

“The woman had pleaded guilty in December last year and been remanded in prison until sentencing earlier today,” Hutton said.

“She had pleaded guilty to trafficking commercial quantities of abalone, which is a priority species in Victoria, and also to selling rock lobsters and molluscs without authorisation.”

The 10 month investigation, code-named Operation Quantum, had observed the woman repeatedly on-selling illegally taken abalone at a discounted price around St Albans and Sunshine.

Mr Hutton said she was supplied by a team of ten divers, all sentenced last month, who would drive from the western suburbs of Melbourne several times each week to steal abalone, rock lobster and other shellfish from Victoria’s southwest coastline.

“The divers would meet at dive sites around Warrnambool and Port Fairy, take quantities of abalone and other shellfish then drive three hours back to Melbourne to sell the harvest to her and one other alleged ring-leader, who will appear in court in March,” he said.

Four of those ten divers were jailed last month for periods of up to two months, however those sentences remain under appeal. The other six men received community correctional orders requiring them to complete between 60 and 280 hours of unpaid community work, bans that prohibit all fishing activity indefinitely and orders to pay between $220 and $16,500 each.

In the County Court today Judge Pullen said the woman’s offending was a very serious crime with implications for the wild abalone stocks and the legitimate abalone market, with lost revenue for associated businesses.

Judge Pullen added that the offending also put consumers at risk from poor seafood handling and unsafe storage practices.

“This was an organised syndicate and you knew it was against the law,” the judge said.

During the investigation, 12 vehicles and dive equipment were seized and most have since been forfeited. Several residential premises are still restrained under proceeds of crime legislation.

Mr Hutton said Fisheries Victoria would continue to dismantle syndicates like this one, which represent a major threat to the sustainability of our valuable fisheries.

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