Fisheries Officers apprehend abalone thieves in covert operation

Seized diving equipment
DPI Victoria .
Four alleged abalone thieves, from Yarraville and Sunshine West, were successfully apprehended last weekend after a sophisticated surveillance operation by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries Fisheries.

Melbourne-based Regional Fisheries Officer Dane Robinson led the operation, involving officers at the Metro, Geelong, Cowes, and Mornington Stations, which detected the men during a three-day operation at Williamstown to enforce strict abalone fishing regulations.

It will be alleged that the four men attempted to disguise the frequency of their visits to the dive site by using a number of different vehicles and changes of clothing to evade detection.

In each case it is alleged that over three days, commencing on ANZAC Day, the men transported the abalone from the coast and stored it at their respective houses before returning to dive for more.

This meant that if inspected, the men were never in possession of more than five abalone at any one time.

Fisheries Officers used a range of sophisticated surveillance techniques to collect evidence of the alleged illegal activity.

Late on Friday evening, four search warrants were obtained from an after-hours magistrate in readiness for the planned apprehension of the four men.

On the third day of the operation, two of the men were arrested at their vehicle and a short time later all four search warrants were executed with the assistance of Victoria Police.

In total, 424 abalone (either in frozen or fresh form) were recovered from the four addresses. Two vehicles were seized along with a large amount of diving equipment.

Three of the men were interviewed that evening and all four offenders will be charged on summons with a range of offences, including procession of a commercial quantity of abalone, taking or possessing more than twice the legal catch of abalone, using and possessing commercial fishing equipment and taking undersized abalone. A licenced recreational diver may take and possess only five abalone on any of the 60 open days
each year in Victoria.

Fisheries Victoria Executive Director Anthony Hurst said the officers carried out a well-planned and executed operation to overcome the challenge of long days and sophisticated anti-surveillance techniques.

'Abalone are a legislated priority fish species in Victoria, and are afforded considerable protection due to their significant commercial value to Victoria,' Mr Hurst said.
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