The Australian Border Force (ABF), along with our partner agencies, is committed to protecting Australia’s maritime regions from illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels.
The ABF’s effort to combat illegal fishing activities is spear-headed by Maritime Border Command (MBC) – a joint-agency taskforce comprising officers from the ABF and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), drawing on all capabilities available to both organisations.
“Globally, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a significant environmental issue and threat to sustainable fisheries. Our message to illegal foreign fishers in Australian waters is simple: we will target you and intercept you. You will lose your catch, your equipment, and possibly even your vessel,” MBC Commander Rear Admiral Mark Hill said.
Australia has 37,000 kilometres of coastline and an offshore maritime area of almost 45 million square kilometres. The combined ABF and ADF air and sea assets, with their state-of-the-art surveillance, intelligence, and detection technologies, enable us to respond to a wide range of maritime security threats across this vast domain.
In the 2020-2021 financial year, MBC apprehended 85 illegal fishing vessels in Australian waters – seizing equipment and contraband such as nets and fishing gear, as well as catch including trepang (sea cucumber), shark fin, and finfish. These actions also resulted in the destruction of 12 illegal fishing vessels.
We coordinate with partner agencies in Australia and overseas to target illegal fishing, including through joint operations:
- In April 2021, MBC, with the support of Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), commenced Operation Jawline to target, detect and stop illegal foreign fishing in the waters off Ashmore Island and Cartier Island Marine Parks, and Scott Reef, more than 800 kilometres west of Darwin.
- The first phase of Operation Jawline saw three ABF Cape class patrol boats monitoring the vicinity, and intercepting 19 foreign fishing vessels over several weeks. The operation seized approximately 860 kilograms of trepang (sea cucumber), 105 kilograms of fish as well as fishing equipment.
- Three of the foreign fishing vessels were seized and destroyed at sea, with their crew transferred to other vessels before being escorted outside of the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. Operation Jawline remains an ongoing priority for MBC.
- In October 2021, MBC, AFMA, Parks Australia and the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development joined forces to successfully locate and intercept 16 foreign vessels fishing illegally in the vicinity of Rowley Shoals. Three of the vessels were destroyed, and the operation seized a total of 630 kilograms of trepang, together with fishing equipment including 5 tonnes of salt, 56 pairs of reef shoes, 59 pairs of goggles, 72 catch bags and 5 dugouts.
The ABF and MBC also work closely with our international partners to combat illegal activities at sea:
- Since 2018, MBC has joined with the Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA), the Indonesian Directorate General of Surveillance for Marine and Fisheries Resources (PSDKP) and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) for Operation GANNET– a series of joint maritime patrols on the Indonesia-Australia maritime boundary. These joint patrols aim to deter illegal activities impacting the prosperity of our countries, including illegal fishing.
- AFMA also works with Indonesian officials to distribute fisheries enforcement chartlets in Indonesian language to fishing communities and in the ports of Kupang and Rote.
- We routinely share information gathered through our surveillance and response actions with the Indonesian Coast Guard and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Our joint efforts and sharing of information on illegal fishing activity underpin the strength of our relationship with Indonesian authorities.
The ABF, together with its domestic and international partners, is committed to protecting Australia’s maritime environment and keeping our borders secure.
Attribute to Rear Admiral Mark Hill, Maritime Border Command
“We are committed to protecting Australia’s maritime environment and defending our borders, including against illegal attempts to fish in Australian waters.
“The combined efforts of MBC and partner agencies enable surveillance, patrol and response capabilities, to combat illegal activity and threats to Australia’s border.”
Attribute to General Manager Operations Peter Venslovas, AFMA
“The seizure of fishing gear and disposal of vessels serves as a reminder to those seeking to exploit Australia’s marine resources that Australian authorities will not tolerate such illegal activity,”
Attribute to First Assistant Secretary Jason Mundy, Parks Australia
“Australian Marine Parks are special places and protecting them from illegal foreign fishing is essential to the protection of our nation’s rich biodiversity.
“The work of our partner agencies is vital to disrupting these damaging activities and helps safeguard our marine areas now and into the future.”
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