INDONESIANS fishing illegally off northern Australia have been using dolphin meat to bait shark, according to Aboriginal sea rangers.
Customs officers this month arrested the crew of an Indonesian fishing boat spotted at Junction Bay, west of Maningrida in the Northern Territory. The boat, with a crew of seven, was hidden behind mangroves to escape detection by customs.
Gavin Enever, a co-ordinator of the Bawaninga Djelk sea rangers, said the fishermen were using dolphin flesh as bait to catch shark. “We pulled up several hooks with dolphin meat in them,” he said. “We also recovered 18 sharks and 30 other hooks baited with dolphin meat.”
Dolphins are protected by law and killing them can result in penalties, including a $110,000 fine and up to two years’ jail. The practice has been used by illegal fishermen in the past, but only 10 have been reported and prosecuted in the past decade.
Source: The Age (Australia)
Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald said customs officials reported no evidence of dolphin meat on the boat. “I’m concerned about any of slaughter of dolphins whether it be for shark bait or anything else,” he said. “If the rangers have photos that clearly show they (fishermen) did use dolphins as bait, it should be referred to customs because it is a serious additional offence.”
Mr Enever said the rangers were certain it was dolphin meat, and they were concerned it may be used commonly as bait. “They suspect this could be a practice they (illegal fishermen) are adopting, and if that is the case, there will be a lot of angry citizens in Maningrida,” he said.
Maningrida sea rangers, based 500 kilometres east of Darwin, regularly patrol the Arnhem Land coast by air, and have spotted 17 boats since April, leading to six arrests.
Mr Enever said more arrests could have been made if the Federal Government funded the rangers and provided them with equipment and communications devices to liaise with customs officers. “Last Thursday was a well co-ordinated exercise and shows how much value the sea rangers can add to protecting Australia’s coastline,” he said.
Senator Macdonald said he would meet the Maningrida sea rangers in the new year and consider a proposal from them.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society spokeswoman Margi Prideaux said the Government needed to take the issue seriously and increase patrols.
World Wildlife Fund oceans program leader Gilly Llewellyn said the use of dolphin meat to bait shark was “just another worrying symptom of the growing problem of illegal fishing”.