THE Victorian Abalone Fishery is one of the state’s most valuable commercial fisheries.
The primary management objective of the fishery is to rebuild the abalone resource to ensure its sustainable economic productivity.
And one of the main ways Fisheries Victoria does this is by adjusting seasonal quotas, not only to ensure that the whole fishery is sustainable but also to ensure that specific locations are not over-fished.
In order to get that right, it relies heavily on the data provided by licence holders and their divers on catch rates and tonnage taken in each specific location along the coast as well as their overall take.
It’s also important that the divers and licence holders do whatever they can to protect and enhance the fishery, not only by providing accurate data, but also by their own practices.
So when two abalone divers and the holder of one of 34 abalone licences in the Central Zone (71 in the state) were brought up on a long list of charges in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court last week, detailing actions which threaten the integrity of the system, it’s a serious matter.
And that’s the point that was made by Fisheries Victoria prosecutor, Scott Ward, when he brought cases against two experienced abalone divers; 41 year old Toby Hoskin of Highton and 35 year old Jason York of Mallacoota, as well as the licence holder, 72 year old David Hoskin of Grovedale.
The trio, together with the company which owns the licence, Candive Pty Ltd, were ultimately found guilty of 22 charges and fined an all-up total of $9600 with $816.74 in court costs.
Crucially however, while the men were found guilty by Magistrate Charles Tan, it was a ‘without conviction’ decision following a comprehensive plea made by the legal counsel for the three men, Michael Morehead, an expert marine lawyer.
“What you are saying is that if they are convicted they may not be able to operate the licence?” Magistrate Tan asked.
“Yes a conviction could affect them when the licence comes up for renewal,” Mr Morehead said.
“You’d say the department places great emphasis on conviction then?” said Mr Tan.
“Yes. Abalone divers have been helping each other at the end of the season for decades but when the regulations changed, that’s how it should be,” he said, referring to the set of charges which related to two divers allegedly helping to fill the available quota on one licence.
Also asked by Magistrate Tan if a conviction might impact the licence renewal process, fisheries prosecutor Mr Ward agreed it could.
“The licence renewal is based on the applicant being a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a licence,” he said, although he couldn’t say how convictions, as opposed to being found guilty and fined, would be assessed in what was basically an administrative process.
Earlier Mr Ward had provided a summary of what took place.
* On Thursday, March 19, 2015 divers Toby Hoskin and Jason York took Hoskin’s boat out from Shallow Inlet and went to an area near Walkerville North where they worked for 6.5 hours. At the time, Hoskin still had 1482kg (black lip) and 9.4kg (green lip) abalone left on his father’s annual quota (until March 31) and York had 10kg left of a quota on another licence. However while York only collected one bin of abalone in that time, a total of 10kg, Toby Hoskin allegedly collected 24 bins of abalone, totalling 1243.5kg at a rate of 191.7kg per hour of black lip abalone. This was the data supplied to Fisheries however, quoting expert opinion, Mr Ward said it was “highly improbable” that Mr Hoskin collected that much himself and much more likely that the two had shared the catching.
* On Monday, August 10, 2015, the two divers again worked together but allegedly phoned in incorrect reef codes and quantities.
* On Monday, March 30, 2016 the two divers took the same boat to Great Glennie Island, Norman Island and another location off Tidal River near Wilsons Prom, taking various quantities of abalone from each location, but according to Fisheries, again shared the catch and did not provide accurate data about the quantities taken from each location. They said they weren’t entitled to take green lip abalone and also that David Hoskin, who worked as a deckhand on the day, was allegedly seen throwing undersized abalone over the side of the boat. The correct practice is for the abalone to be returned to the reef by the diver. They also took two leatherjacket fish onboard.
The trio denied sharing the catch and throwing the abalone over the side but ultimately pleaded guilty to 27 charges, reduced from 68; Candive Pty Ltd 12 charges fined $200 and $1800 with $96.18 costs, York two charges $1200 and $482.70 costs, Toby Hoskin 9 charges $1600 and $1200 fines with $119.61 costs and David Hoskin four charges $1800 plus $118.25 costs.
Almost all of the Victorian abalone catch is exported to international markets, predominately in Asia. Abalone is caught along the majority of the Victorian coastline and the fishery is primarily based on targeting blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra). Greenlip (Haliotis laevegata)abalone is also taken in smaller quantities. The fishery is quota managed, with a total allowable commercial catch set annually based on the outcomes of a stock assessment process.
Current Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for the 2016/17 quota season: Eastern Zone 363.0 tonnes blacklip, Central Zone 280.2 tonnes blacklip, 3.4 tonnes greenlip and Western Zone 62.5 tonnes blacklip, 0.0 tonnes greenlip.