NSW marine authorities have upped the ante in its fight against illegal fishing and black market sales on Sydney’s waters.
- Operation Ascend was launched last month on Sydney Harbour
- The Solitary Ranger patrol boat is equipped with infrared technology, radars and a rapid launch boat
- Authorities say illegal fishing is driven by increasing demand for abalone, lobsters, oysters and fish
Despite NSW Fisheries seizing about 50,000 illegally caught fish and invertebrates in NSW each year, authorities said it was not enough to curb the rise in unlawful activity.
Operation Ascend, a “high profile compliance exercise” using two high-tech Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), began in Sydney Harbour in December.
It has already intercepted hundreds of boats since it began, detecting 83 offences, some of them major.
Fisheries officers said the key to their success was a new OPV, the Solitary Ranger, which was spearheading the operation alongside the OPV Sydney Swan.
The Solitary Range was purpose-built in NSW and is the largest of the agency’s 80-strong fleet, equipped with infrared technology, radars and a rapid launch boat.
“It lets us go and check smaller vessels or send it ahead of the main vessel to conduct inspections before the large vessel comes into view,” District Fisheries Officer for Offshore Patrol Operations, Sampson Hollywood said.
“We’ve also got 3D mapping and sonar technology on board which lets us get highly detailed mapping of the sea floor and infrared light.
“It has given us the capability to monitor boats in hard to see places and spatial closures and over long distances.”
Authorities said illegal fishing was driven by increasing demand for abalone, lobsters, oysters and fish.
It can have a devastating impact on natural resources and represents a threat to protected species like the grey nurse shark and the black rock cod.
“There’s the potential there for them to do long term damage and spoil it for future generations,” Mr Hollywood said.
The other OPV involved in Operation Ascend is the smaller Sydney Swan.
The two vessels involved in Operation Ascend are patrolling Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and further off the NSW coastline during the day and night, when fishing is popular.
Officers are also inspecting restaurants and markets, to ensure fish and invertebrates were being sourced from licensed operators.
According to Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders, the operation is also educating anglers about catch limits and mismeasuring fish.
“It is a higher visibility operation, it’s not one that’s been hidden from the public,” Mr Saunders said.
“It’s one to say we are out and about this is the boat that you might run into and we can be anywhere and everywhere fairly quickly.”
Mr Saunders said that illegal activity is a problem occurring on waterways across the state, and there have been 635 offences recorded over the summer.