A NORTH Coast commercial angler has been caught allegedly covering bycatch reduction devices on prawn nets when ocean fishing on the Mid North Coast.
Fisheries officers patrolling local waters on board the vessel Ngaarru allegedly found the illegal modifications when they boarded the commercial prawn trawler around six kilometres from the Mid North Coast.
Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Director of Fisheries Compliance, Glenn Tritton, said it's alleged the skipper deliberately modified the bycatch reduction devices on his prawn trawl nets.
"The actions of the skipper rendered the devices ineffective, thus preventing fish bycatch from escaping the prawn trawl nets," Mr Tritton said.
"DPI will be taking action against the skipper.
For an individual, this offence carries a maximum fine of $22,000 and up to six months imprisonment for a first offence, and $44,000 and 12 months imprisonment for subsequent offences.
"Clearly the fisher was not expecting to get checked by fisheries officers in the middle of the night.
"The NSW Ocean Trawl fishery is managed under specific arrangements to minimise bycatch of non-target and prohibited size species.
Mr Tritton said commercial fishers are expected to understand the rules that apply to their fisheries.
"The majority of commercial fishers follow the rules and strongly support to need to fish in a sustainable way to help ensure the long term viability of fisheries resources," he said.
The bycatch reduction device known as a composite square mesh panel is sewn into the top of the trawl net and placed at a point where water flow through the net allows unwanted fish to escape.