Operation prises open black market oyster trade

THERE will be a crackdown on black market oysters and consumers are being warned to avoid stolen seafood this festive period.

Department of Primary Industries director of compliance Glenn Tritton said Operation Trident was designed to deter oyster theft and protect consumers against unsafe black market produce during the festive season.

"Operation Trident is a multi-phase operation targeting all facets of illegal seafood theft - from on the water to ending up either being sold illegally in pubs, on plates in restaurants and even on the dinner table in your own home," Mr Tritton said.

"Expert DPI fisheries officers work in conjunction with the NSW Authority and NSW Police, and in consultation with NSW Farmers, during this peak season for seafood and oyster consumption.

"The high-tech operation includes ongoing covert and overt operations up and down the NSW coast that aim to break up the black market which is responsible for ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of oysters across NSW each year."

NSW Food Authority's chief scientist Dr Lisa Szabo said the black market oyster trade not only impacted the livelihood of primary producers, but could pose a health risk to consumers as well.

"Stolen oysters might not come from an area covered by the NSW Shellfish Program," Dr Szabo said.

"Only buy oysters from reputable retailers as these oysters have been monitored for their safety.

"Most illegal seafood is stored in the backs of unrefrigerated trucks.

"We strongly advise against anyone consuming seafood if they don't know where it has come from."

Superintendent Mark Hutchings, of the NSW Police Force's Marine Area Command, said the three-pronged co-ordinated approach by the DPI, NSW Food Authority and NSW Police allowed the agencies to share resources, intelligence and information.

This better enabled them to catch those responsible for ripping off hard-working oyster farmers.

"We are seeking the community's involvement in this, Supt Hutchings said.

"If someone approaches you in a pub or if you run a restaurant and someone tries to flog you cheap oysters, ring Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 and help us put an end to this potentially dangerous scam."

NSW Farmers Oyster Committee chairman Kevin McAsh said the industry applauded such vigilance against illegal seafood trade.

"Reports from oyster farmers indicate that theft numbers are down, thanks to the heightened awareness resulting from Operation Trident," Mr McAsh said.

"The NSW oyster industry is keen to continue to work in conjunction with the government agencies involved in a combined effort to stamp out oyster theft."

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