Trawler risks rep in exclusion zone

A MOOLOOLABA trawler ran the risk of damaging Australia's international reputation when it was caught illegally fishing in an exclusion zone of Papua New Guinea.

The vessel spent almost 10 hours in the exclusion zone, despite the skipper being warned not to fish there.

The maximum penalty for a company whose boat commits such a crime is $275,000.

The Mooloolaba company, Vynban Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty yesterday to operating a boat under the Australian flag in an exclusive economic zone of PNG.

Australian authorities began monitoring the vessel on the morning of October 7, 2009. It went 10 nautical miles into the exclusion zone and fished for nine to 10 hours.

Three days later, when it docked at Mooloolaba, officers from the Department of Fisheries boarded the vessel and charged the skipper.

Maroochydore Magistrates Court heard yesterday that the company's director only became aware then of the illegal action.

The illegal haul was forfeited immediately.

Magistrate Bernadette Callaghan said there was potential to seriously damage Australia's reputation for fishing conservation.

The master of the ship was sacked and fined $5000.

Normally a company would be fined five times as much as an individual skipper. Ms Callaghan said because Vynban had tried to stop its employee it should only be fined $5000 as well.

“It is a particularly embarrassing event for Australia,” the prosecutor said.

“Australia has sought to be a model state in management of commercial fishing.''

The company's lawyer said that on the morning of the offence the boat's skipper had been telephoned by the Mooloolaba office but did not reveal he was in the PNG exclusion zone.

The court was told the company's director took fishing conservation “very seriously” and was embarrassed that the company had broken the law.

Vynban's profits have been hit hard by the high Australian dollar and it is currently in financial difficulties. The court heard that one of Vybnan's major markets is Japan, which has been crippled by recent natural disasters.

The director has sold his family home to support the viability of the business in the short term.

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