By Alex Blucher
Commercial abalone divers in Tasmania are worried about a rise in poaching as demand for the delicacy grows in Asian markets.
Tasmania Police say that 862 illegally harvested abalone seized last weekend were intended for sale interstate in the lead-up to Chinese New Year later in February.
Tasmanian Abalone Council president Joey McKibbon said there is a risk that the black market will grow.
"There's a lot of predominantly Asian cultures that consume abalone; it's not the consumer's fault in most cases," he said.
"It would probably be the restaurant selling it that would probably have some idea, so it is something that we're going to have to be on high alert for."
Sergeant Mark Lopes, from Marine and Rescue Services, said the haul, illegally harvested off the state's West Coast in early February, would be worth about $12,000 on the black market.
"This was a significantly large haul. It was probably the largest one we've had in the last 10 years," he said.
"It obviously comes down to supply and demand and I think there is a great demand at the moment. With the approaching festivities, there are people who want a considerable amount of seafood at this time of the year."
Sergeant Lopes believed that the abalone were targeted in order to supply restaurants for Chinese New Year celebrations in Melbourne and Sydney.
Two New South Wales men were caught in possession of the abalone haul in Marrawah and were arrested and charged with trafficking in fish.
Mr McKibbon said the commercial fishery targeted by the poachers would take years to recover.
"They're taking everything that is front of them, so effectively they've cleaned out a gutter of abalone, which will possibly take about five, maybe seven, years before that's back into the fishery," he said.
Mr McKibbon said the theft would decrease the total allowable catch limits for that commercial fishery this season. Audiofile.