THE owner of Camperdown Seafoods and two of his associates were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly laundering recreationally caught fish through his shop and dealing in the proceeds of crime.
Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) acting director of education and enforcement, Brooke Hall, said fisheries officers and investigators seized the shop owner’s seven and a half metre boat, valued at $150,000, along with a truck.
“Also seized were several boxes of frozen fish fillets, estimated to weigh 60kg, and fishing gear including 23 fishing rods, two with electric reels, all worth in excess of $10,000,” Mr Hall said.
“The extensive (10 month) investigation, code-named Operation Torpedo, conducted surveillance on several occasions on the three men whilst they were fishing along the south west Victorian coast.
“It will be alleged that fish caught on each trip, including gummy shark and school shark – commonly sold as flake – mako shark, flathead, snapper, morwong, leatherjacket and gurnard, were taken back to the shop, processed, then laundered and sold as legitimately sourced seafood,” he said.
VFA acting regional fisheries manager of operations, Dave Burgess, said 17 fisheries officers, four investigators from VFA’s statewide investigations group and six Victoria Police officers executed three warrants.
“Three residential premises were searched over several hours as well as the fish and chip shop itself,” he said.
“There was a lot to look at and a lot of items and procedures to go through.
“All three people involved co-operated fully with the authorities and were taken to three separate police stations where they were interviewed.”
Mr Burgess said the three people involved would be charged with numerous offences.
“We are in the process of compiling a brief of evidence which will go before the Victorian Magistrates’ Court at a later date,” he said.
“While the men fished across the south west, they operated predominately from Warrnambool.”
Mr Hall said fishmongers and fish and chip shops must only sell seafood that has been purchased from licensed commercial fishers and cannot sell fish caught by recreational anglers, including themselves.
“The sale of recreationally caught fish undermines the legitimate commercial fishing industry and has the potential to threaten the sustainability of Victoria’s fisheries resource.
“Recreationally caught fish are not subject to any of the food safety measures required under the Food Standards Code.
“The sale of illegally sourced fish places the health of purchasers at risk and the reputation of retail businesses.”
Under fisheries and food safety laws, fish retailers and wholesalers must only buy seafood from legitimate commercial sources and are required to keep records of the purchase transactions, including the name and address of the providers.
“Fisheries officers and investigators will continue to detect, disrupt and dismantle organised illegal fishing activity as a priority,” Mr Hall said.
“We are dedicated to exploring all avenues to bring offenders to justice and protect Victoria’s fisheries resources for sustainable and legitimate utilisation.”
Anyone who sees or suspects illegal fishing is urged to call the 24-hour reporting line 13FISH (133 474).