The hidden fish in the toilet compartment.
The hidden fish in the toilet compartment. Fisheries Queensland

Hook, line and stinker: Illegal fish stashed in boat's loo

A RECREATIONAL fisherman from Glenella has copped a hefty fine after he was caught with a haul of restricted fish stashed in a vessel's toilet.

Joseph Thomas Elrott, 67, was found in possession of 18 Spanish mackerel in total in various locations on his boat - 15 above the bag limit.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol district officer Craig Bambling said his officers were patrolling at Mackay Marina on August 1 last year when they made the curious find.

Officers inspected Elrott's fishing vessel, which had three people aboard.

"Fisheries officers found nine filleted Spanish mackerel, one filleted sailfish and one whole Spanish mackerel in an ice box attached to the vessel," Mr Bambling said.

"Five large plastic bags containing a total of 17 whole Spanish mackerel fillets were found in a concealed compartment under the floor ...

"Four large plastic bags containing 11 whole Spanish mackerel fillets were also found in another concealed compartment in the floor of the vessel's toilet. A total of 24 Spanish mackerel were on board ... "

Under the state's Fisheries Act 1994, the possession limit for Spanish mackerel is only three per person. Mr Elrott was deemed to be in possession of 18 of the mackerel.

He was sentenced over two offences: Unlawfully taking regulated fish and obstructing a Fisheries inspector.

When asked what constituted the obstruction, Mr Bambling said it was because the mackerel had been "kept in two concealed compartments".

 

Spanish mackerel found hidden in the boat's toilet compartment.
Spanish mackerel found hidden in the boat's toilet compartment. Fisheries Queensland

Additionally, Mr Bambling said Mr Elrott did not admit "on four separate occasions about the existence of these compartments and the regulated fish therein", after an initial search and questioning.

On Tuesday, Mackay Magistrates Court fined Mr Elrott $4000 for possessing 15 mackerel too many and $1500 for obstructing the officer.

Commercial fishers outnumbered

As the number of commercial fishers declines in the region, those involved in the industry called for tougher penalties against recreational anglers exceeding bag limits.

A commercial angler of 30 years feels those in the industry face much greater scrutiny from Fisheries than your average recreational fisher.

"There was a few hundred boats on the water today and only two commercial boats," the 48-year-old exclaimed.

"You see some out there on a daily basis. They outnumber us a thousand to one. We're struggling with these rules and regulations, (the goverment) knows our every movement. It feels totally unregulated in the recreational sense.

"Recreational bag limits are already generous and we just feel the fines aren't as excessive on the recreational side."

 

One of the compartments with the hidden fish inside.
One of the compartments with the hidden fish inside. Fisheries Queensland

The fisherman said he's tired of sitting by as the commercial industry is tied up in never-ending government reform while recreational breaches generally fall by the wayside.

"We're just sort of feeling up against the wall," he explained.

Mackay Reef Fish Supplies owner David Caracciolo, 54, who's overseen about seven or eight commercial vessels over the years, said there's always some degree of argy bargy between the industry and recreational fishermen and women.

"The commercial guys are much easier to police. They've got infrastructure, gear. They can't just pack up and disappear. And there's certainly not as many of them," he said.

"The compliance, when it comes down to the recreational sector, the industry feels is totally out of whack. The fines, compared to the recreational and commercial sector. It just doesn't balance up."

Mr Caracciolo pointed out the prevalence of recreational black market mackerel and mud crab sales in Queensland.

Fishing rules and regulations

Queensland places rules and regulations in place for fishing in the state to protect and conserve fish stocks, Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol states.

It states following the rules will ensure "valuable fisheries resources will be around for current and future generations of Queenslanders to enjoy".

Fishers need to be familiar with size and possession limits for different fish species, how to correctly measure fish, the restrictions on fishing gear and when closed seasons apply.

The rules can be found on the 'Qld' Fishing' smartphone app which is free to download, online at fisheries.qld.gov.au or by phoning 13 25 23.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol relies on community support to uncover information about suspected illegal fishing activity.

To report unlawful fishing, call the 24 hour toll-free Fishwatch hotline on 1800 017 116.



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