Australian Institute of Criminology

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The illegal market in Australian abalone

Media Release

16 May 2002

Australia currently produces around one-third of the global wild abalone harvest, with national earnings estimated at $102.5 million during 1999-2000.

A national Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute (MAFRI) Project, managed by Harry Gorfine, and funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation was established to explore the nature of illegal activity involving abalone resources in Australia.

This project has provided the first comprehensive, systematic, and nationwide collation and evaluation of information from official sources in relation to illegal abalone catches.

A report released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology identifies the key players in the trade and details the processes involved from abalone harvesting to the final point of export. The report also proposes a number of interventions, which may serve to interfere with the trade at various stages.

In releasing the report commissioned by MAFRI Dr Adam Graycar, AIC Director stated, "Abalone has become an attractive criminal commodity. As global populations of abalone decline, increased pressure is placed on Australian's abalone fishery to meet ongoing international demand. This strong demand, which is not fully met by the legitimate trade, creates incentives for people to supply the black market with stolen or 'poached' abalone".

The report found five types of illegal abalone poachers, ranging from organised poachers, who often operate in crews and employ professional equipment, and can fish for days at a time and across state borders. However, licensed and shore-based divers, extended family groups and individuals are likely to either trade in abalone as a supplement to their legitimate income, or poach for personal use.