The PSA and Fisheries Officers Vocational Branch (FOVB) have previously reported our concerns relating to the safety of Fisheries Officers. We have provided the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries with steps we maintain will provide enhanced levels of safety for our members when undertaking compliance operations on Illegal, Unlicenced and Unregulated (IUU) groups committing abalone or rock lobster offences.
The Deputy Director General has since written back to the PSA and provided some commentary on DPI Fisheries activities in this space. The concern from the FOVB is that these measures will not provide the level of safety required, nor will they deal with the immediacy of the problem.
This doesn’t mean that DPI Fisheries doesn’t take the safety of its officers seriously; it does. But it is not enough to satisfy the PSA and FOVB that the Department and the NSW Government should be doing more.
To put it into perspective, the previous NSW Labor Government thought it prudent to investigate the involvement of organised crime in IUU fishing for high-value seafood species in 2004.
The NSW Government sought the assistance of the retired Federal Police Commissioner to investigate these activities and the Palmer Report was provided to Parliament. Despite the passing of nearly 17 years since the Palmer Report, there has been no fundamental changes to the Fisheries Management Act NSW 1994 and these groups targeting these highly valued species have become more organised and brazen in their operations.
Decisions by external agencies not to prosecute these groups have further exacerbated the tension, obstruction and threats of violence against our members. Some members have expressed their concern not only for their own welfare but that of their families whilst living within regional communities.
After the 2013 shooting in the Environment Protection Authority, the PSA and FOVB shared their concerns and offered solutions. Likewise after the Moulamein Shooting incident on Good Friday 2020.
Fisheries Officers have been resilient and stand fast in providing the service that recreational and commercial fishers expect with one hand tied behind their back for too long. All the while receiving platitudes from DPI Fisheries that legislative reform is just around the corner.
The FOVB and PSA have now advised the DPI Fisheries Deputy Director General Sean Sloan about Work Bans. These will consist of Fisheries Officers refraining from undertaking face-to-face law enforcement duties of suspected IUU fishing/diving activities by recreational and unlicensed commercial fishers involved in the harvest of abalone and rock lobster (given the distinction between the two types of fishers is difficult pre-inspection) due to the unmitigated safety risk this activity now poses to members.
These work bans will come into force from midnight, Monday 31 August.
Important to note: Work surrounding the commercial abalone fishery and the investigation and surveillance of IUU groups suspected in committing abalone and rock lobster offences will continue as normal or until such time as the activity becomes unsafe to continue.
The PSA and FOVB are disappointed that it must take this step to protect its members as there is little doubt that such actions will have detrimental effects on recreational fishers as well as commercial operations. It is hoped that they will see the long term value in the FOVB taking this step.
However, the PSA and FOVB still hold out hopes that these work bans can still be adverted if DPI Fisheries and this Government provides its workforce with concrete plans to mitigate the safety risks and legislative reforms that will provide a robust compliance regime that focuses on the sustainability of the resource.
If members have any questions with regard to the work bans they can contact the FOVB members or the PSA Member Support Centre on 1300 772 679.