FISHERIES officers have raided two Newcastle restaurants and seized 45 black market Eastern rock lobsters.
The restaurant raids are the second major bust in the past few months by fisheries officers cracking down on the lucrative illegal seafood trade in the Hunter.
A Newcastle restaurant was raided in December and 28 lobsters, 16 live and 12 frozen, were seized. Another raid in Adamstown last month, netted 17 lobsters, including two of a prohibited size.
Department of Primary Industries director fisheries compliance, Patrick Tully, said none of the rock lobsters had tags attached indicating they were legally caught.
“Black marketing seafood presents a food safety risk, especially restaurants selling seafood with unknown hygiene background,” he said.
“It is illegal to sell any recreationally caught fish, including Eastern rock lobsters, and it is also illegal to buy or sell Eastern rock lobsters not legally caught by licenced commercial fishers with NSW DPI lobster tags attached.”
The live lobsters were returned to the water.
One of the restaurants faces potential charges of trafficking fish which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
The second restaurant faces potential charges of aggravated possession of a priority species which carries a maximum penalty of $44,000 and 12 months in jail.
NSW’s lobster industry is worth about $11.5 million annually. “The NSW lobster fishery is a highly regulated, share managed quota fishery,” Mr Tully said.
“Black marketing undermines the strict management arrangements that aim to maintain a sustainable and viable industry.”
Fairfax Media reported earlier this month that a special flying squad of fisheries officers seized the vehicle of a commercial fisherman after he was allegedly found with 40 Eastern rock lobsters in Mayfield in February.
The sting operation involving covert surveillance, known as ‘Operation Antennae’, tracked the movements of two Hunter men over several weeks.
DPI is investigating charging the men with trafficking in a commercial quantity of an indictable species, exceeding the limit of lobsters and being in possession of oversized lobsters.
Anyone with information about illegal fishing should call Fishers Watch on 1800 043 536 or report it online at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au.