Calls for illegal fishing to be priority in Indonesia-Australia diplomacy at G20 Summit

Fishermen say a surge in illegal fishing off the Western Australian and Northern Territory coasts must be a priority in discussions between Australia and Indonesia at next week’s G20 summit.

It comes after Australian Fisheries Management Authority chief executive Wez Norris told Senate Estimates this week that there have already been 46 illegal vessels detected in Australian waters since June.

Western Australia is experiencing the largest surge in numbers with 42 in the state’s waters, while only four have been detected in the Northern Territory since June 30.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that 337 illegal fishing vessels were intercepted in Australian waters in the 2021/22 financial year – 305 of which were detected in waters off the WA coast.

Mr Norris said the numbers were likely to rise due to the decimating impact of COVID-19 on Indonesia’s tourism industry.

But his opinion was disputed by Australian fishermen.

A man in a collared shirt, in front of a beach
Grant Barker fishes from Darwin and Broome. (ABC Kimberley)

approach to “light-handed”

Darwin commercial fisherman Grant Barker said lax policies and border patrols meant repeated incursions were punished and encouraged fishermen to head south.

“It’s pretty clear that the light-handed approach to dealing with these ships doesn’t really solve the problem,” he said.

“The problem will continue until we take a tougher approach, which means burning the boats like we used to and sending them back.”

He said the Australian Fisheries Management Authority was quick to say that the impact of COVID on tourism in Indonesia has forced fishermen to take more risks.

“I would strongly disagree with that,” he said.

Earlier this year, a Pilbara commercial fisherman notified authorities of a suspected illegal fishing boat off the coast of Port Hedland.

“We are not sending a strong enough message back to Indonesia saying that if you are caught illegally in Australian waters or in an Australian Commonwealth Marine Park … we will take your boats away from you and destroy them and send you home.” he said.

“They’re just going further south in this case, which puts them into the Pilbara and further east into Australian waters and we’re finding them in places you wouldn’t think you’d find them.”

An aerial view of a yellow illegal Indonesian fishing boat in the water
There are concerns that more fishermen will die in the coming monsoon season.(provided by: Jonas Klein)

Fix ‘once and for all’

The waters off the northwest coast are well outside the Australian and Indonesian governments’ 1974 Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU Box, in the Timor Sea.


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