Reef raiders caught, fined $27k

FOUR commercial fishermen were fined a total of $27,000 yesterday for illegally fishing in a protected green zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off Mackay.

For the skipper of the Andirina Pearle, 40-year-old Troy Alexander, it was the third time in 12 months he had been caught raping the protected areas of the reef.

His three dory fishermen pretended to be lost when a surveillance aircraft caught them red-handed in the act of fishing in the no-take zone.

A Customs Coastwatch aircraft was on aerial surveillance when crew saw two dories in unnamed reef No. 21-138 off Mackay, Commonwealth prosecutor Ms Erin Rutherford told the Mackay Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

The plane made three aerial passes and video-taped the illegal fishing and used a GPS to pinpoint their position.

Adam Elsley, 35, and Pearson Gilleard, 29, were in one dory and Ronald McCusker, 31, was in the other and they were seen to be actually fishing.

“They were observed upon noticing the aircraft to attempt to exit the green zone with their anchors deployed,” Ms Rutherford said.

“The vessels were then observed to retrieve the anchors and meet up with each other.

“McCusker contacted the aircraft by radio and advised they were lost and asked if the aircraft could tell him where they were.”

The aircraft located the primary vessel Andirina Pearle at anchor about 24.5km away from the dories.

Two of the dory operators, Gilleard and McCusker, had previous convictions for breaching green zone regulations.

Ms Richardson said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had the greatest diversity of marine life on earth and was heritage listed and no-take zones were specifically there to allow for fish to spawn.

Lawful commercial fishing on the reef was worth $71 million a year while the reef had a value of $5 billion a year as a tourism and recreational attraction, Ms Richardson said.

Illegal fishing had decimated a number of reefs in the past, she said.

“The GBRMP Act is there to protect the reef from exploitation,” she said.

“The Great Barrier Reef is a fragile area and all laws have to be obeyed to protect it.”

Gilleard pleaded guilty in writing to fishing in a green zone while the other three were convicted in their absence. McCusker was fined $9000, Alexander $7000, Gilleard $6000 and Elsley was fined $5000.

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