Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson announced today that new measures will be utilized by the Australian Navy against foreign poachers. The new rules will give naval patrol boats authority to fire shots into the bow or engine compartments of illegal fishing boats to stop them from fleeing.
Some illegal fishers plundering Australia's northern waters have been attaching spears to the sides of their boats and throwing rocks at boarding crews. Australian fishermen also have reported poachers carrying machetes, knives, and even being armed with guns.
Previously, the navy was restricted to firing warning shots.
There are three stages of engagement under the new guidelines. Firstly, if commands to stop the boat are ignored, the navy is authorized to use tear gas and pepper spray. If this fails, "distracted" ammunition or long-range acoustic explosions can be used. The final stage involves the navy firing into the bow or engine of a fleeing boat to disable it.
An extra $19.7 million was announced in this year's Budget to combat Australia's growing illegal fishing problem.
Illegal fishermen have been plundering Australian waters of everything from reef fish and sharks to dolphins and turtles. More than 120,000kg of fish have been seized from illegal boats in the past three years. In 2005, there were 13,018 sightings of foreign fishing vessels, up 35 per cent on 2004.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes this news. "We need to see nations getting tough with poachers," said Sea Shepherd Captain Alex Cornelissen. "Illegal fishing is escalating and tougher measures are needed."
Sea Shepherd only has one question to the Australian Minister of Defense and that is to ask why Australia is getting tougher (and rightfully so) on some foreign fishing operations in Australian territorial waters but is ignoring the ongoing poaching of whales by illegal Japanese whaling operations in Australian Antarctic Territorial waters?
"This blatant discrimination favouring Japanese poachers is hypocritical," said Captain Paul Watson from the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat in Melbourne harbor. "The Australian Navy needs to start seriously kicking Japanese poachers in the ass for illegally slaughtering whales. I think these new rules of engagement are great, but they need to be applied across the board to ALL poachers in Australian waters and not just against poachers from poor nations.
"The message that Australia has been sending is that if you are a poor nation poaching in Australian waters, you're in trouble, but if you are a rich nation doing the same thing, it's okay because we would like to sell you uranium and buy your beer."