By Alex Sinnott
Members of an alleged crime syndicate involved selling tonnes of Port Fairy abalone on the black market will appear in a Melbourne court next week.
Further details were revealed yesterday by authorities after 14 people were arrested in Melbourne’s western suburbs on Tuesday morning in connection with the illegal sale of shellfish.
Authorities believe south-west abalone, crayfish and periwinkles were captured and sold by the trafficking syndicate, mainly to private buyers.
DEPI enforcement acting director Ian Parks said 75 people from his department, along with 30 police officers, were part of the investigation, known as Operation Quantum.
“There were DEPI officers from right across the state involved, including Portland, Warrnambool and Apollo Bay,” Mr Parks said.
“It’s one of the biggest operations of its kind ever in Victoria. The community input has been essential, people who have contacted DEPI about suspicious behaviour around abalone stocks — it was of great assistance to the operation.”
The DEPI released photographs yesterday of the vehicles impounded following Tuesday’s raids, with the cars now stored at the department’s Altona warehouse.
Abalone stocks have slowly grown during the past seven years after the south-west’s shellfish population was nearly wiped out by a virulent disease in 2006. Western Abalone Divers Association chairman Phil Plummer said many within the industry were aware of depleted stocks and were relieved the syndicate had been uncovered.
“Everyone in the region knows about the struggles over abalone over the past seven or eight years,” Mr Plummer said.
“Divers and everyone else have made many sacrifices in order to build stocks back up again.
“When you have this type of protracted theft, the people who make a living in the industry miss out.”
The Standard understands the perpetrators would regularly drive overnight from Melbourne to the south-west, raid on-shore reefs near Port Fairy at daybreak before immediately returning to Melbourne.
Mr Parks said penalties for illegally sourcing and selling seafood in commercial quantities included up to 10 years’ imprisonment.