• One of the foreign fishing vessels apprehended in waters off North Queensland. Picture: Australian Border Force (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Ways to protect food supplies and country under the spotlight for the Mayor of Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council.
By
Jodan Perry

Source:
NITV News
30 Mar 2016 - 6:48 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2016 - 6:52 PM

“It will have big effects, you know the cost in remote areas for buying meat especially at shops is very expensive. We rely on seafood pretty much everyday,” Wayne Butcher, Mayor of Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council, tells NITV.

“We are all seafarer people here. Seafood is our diet so we can’t afford any impact of illegal fishing the way this has happened, it impacts too much on our local fisheries, and would eventually impact on tucker on the table.”

Mr Butcher is referring to a recent case involving two Vietnamese fishing boats, which were caught in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The boats with 28 crew members, were intercepted with a large amount of diving gear and what is thought to be illegally caught beche-de-mer, or sea cucumbers, near Lockhart River in Cape York on the weekend.

The people found on board were taken to Cairns on Tuesday morning to be investigated by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

Mr Butcher expressed alarm that the boats had found their way so far into Australian waters before they were eventually caught.

“They had to come through the Torres Strait first before they come down the east coast of Australia to Cape York,” Mr Butcher said.

He suggests that authorities need to take a serious look at their northern border patrols to ensure that instances like this do not become more regular.

“There needs to be investing back into the eyes and the ears of these remote areas again, with the focus on land and sea management. It's something that the federal government really needs to review.”

The Great Barrier Reef is on the doorstep of the Lockhart River and is a great habitat for seafood. Mr Butcher says their closest marine park officers are some 500 kilometres away, so the government needs to look at re-investing into some of these ranger programs again so that the locals can keep an eye on their country.

The sea cucumber is seen as a delicacy in some Asian cultures and there was an over exploitation of the marine animal in the last century. Some black markets still exist which are a cause for concern for areas rife with the animal, for example the Great Barrier Reef.

“There are commercial fishermen that fish for them [sea cucumber] in the region but its one of those things that was exploited between the 60’s and the 80’s. Its just recovering over the last 30 years the beche-de-mer so this doesn’t help the fisheries when they're getting re-established again.” Mr Butcher said.

“The sea cucumber is the vacuum of the ocean floor. So if you remove too many of them it will affect the ecosystem in one way or another.”

The crew of the two boats will be placed in immigration detention during the prosecution process, a Border Protection spokesman told AAP.