Pro angler pinched for meddling with crab pots
EXCLUSIVE: Fisheries Queensland has made an example of a commercial crabber from the Mackay region snapped interfering with gear during a surveillance operation involving strategically placed bait pots.
The details came to light during a court case in Mackay, during which crab pot theft and interference was described as common and the subject of constant complaints to the government department.
Colin James Walters - a pro angler of more than five decades - pleaded guilty to nine charges of unlawfully interfering with fishing apparatus when he faced Mackay Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
But the 70-year-old told The Daily Mercury the operation was a "set up" by and large, adding he would've fought the charges if he could afford it.
"A lot of the charges were actually (about) moving pots to get to my own. I was set up mate, there's no doubt," he said.
"I was going to contest all the charges. The thing was, money is the problem."
Walters queried how much taxpayer money had been funnelled into keeping him under surveillance when he spoke after copping a fine of $10,000, with no conviction recorded.
The Halliday Bay man, who plans to retire later this year, had previously been investigated but never found guilty before a court of similar offences.
Walters claims he had been shifting pots to make way for his tinny, or moving those which were disrupting his own gear due to close proximity.
However, Walters admitted to taking one crab from a pot, which he said had been borne out of "frustration" after he himself had dozens of pots stolen or tampered with in a year.
Walters expressed remorse, but maintained some charges levelled at him were unfair.
"That one pot, I own up to that, because I was that frustrated about the amount of pots getting robbed and pinched," he said.
"The others, totally innocent to the lot of them."
During the hearing, the court was told the offences spanned seven months between February 20 and September 11, 2017 at Seaforth.
Three offences involved live crabs being taken, while others involved moving pots owned by the department and crabbers, the court was told.
Speaking for Walters, defence solicitor Peter Clark said his client had been charged with moving some pots, but not others.
Mr Clark, of Strutynski Law, added Walters was "disappointed with his conduct here in terms of taking mud crabs", but said Walters had "no option" but to shift some pots.
Magistrate Mark Nolan considered Walters' timely plea and lack of prior convictions.
"It is unfortunate that a person who has earned their living exploiting these resources should, towards the end of their working life, be standing in the position that you are now," he said.
Officers from Fisheries Queensland watched on as the case was heard.
Interference 'significant problem' state-wide
Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol said six officers were involved in the operation between February-September last year, and detection involved the "use of specialised surveillance cameras".
A Fisheries Queensland spokesperson described meddling with pots as a "significant problem" state-wide.
"The Mackay QBFP office receives one to four complaints related to crab apparatus interference per month," they said.
Crabbers were urged to mark pots and dillies, and warned "stealing crabs or crab pots is a criminal offence and those caught will be referred to the police".
The spokesperson said Fisheries conducts "targeted operations to ensure compliance" linked to "community concerns and specific intelligence".
"All reports of illegal crabbing activity are logged and intelligence developed to identify high risk areas for subsequent investigation," they said.
Report illegal crabbing to Fishwatch on 1800 017 116.