Illegal fishers on notice after vessels destroyed, crews detained

Australian Border Force (ABF) has apprehended 30 illegal foreign fishers and seized and destroyed three fishing vessels this week as part of an ongoing operation targeting illegal fishing off the coast of Western Australia.

ABF’s Maritime Border Command (MBC) in partnership with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) detected and apprehended the vessels found to be fishing illegally in the Kimberley Marine Park (KMP) between 23 and 26 December 2023.

The illegal fishing crews have been safely conveyed to shore and placed in immigration detention while authorities consider prosecution and removal from Australia. Their fishing equipment was seized from the vessels and a combined catch of more than a tonne of trepang (1,170 kg), otherwise known as sea cucumber, as well as 600kg of salt, which is used to preserve the trepang.  

The enforcement action is part of a Whole of Government surge to combat illegal foreign fishing in the KMP under an ABF-led campaign called Operation LEEDSTRUM. LEEDSTRUM has established a robust patrol and response capability in the KMP to support and enhance border enforcement capability.

Operation LEEDSTRUM Commander, Assistant Commissioner Kylie Rendina, said the crews of vessels illegally fishing in Australian waters were on notice.

“If you fish illegally, you will lose your vessel, your equipment and you will be placed in immigration detention to face potential prosecution in Australian courts,” Assistant Commissioner Rendina said.

“The apprehension and detention of these 30 fishers represents the largest cohort of foreign fishers to be detained in over a decade.

“Our officers are doing outstanding work in difficult conditions while being away from their families during the festive season to protect Australia’s marine environment and our border.”

Commander MBC Rear Admiral Justin Jones, RAN, said MBC is deploying multiple assets and powers at its disposal to detect, deter, and disrupt illegal foreign fishing in the KMP.

“This uplift in surveillance and response capability ensures a multi-layered approach using air, sea, littoral, and land assets combined with detection and enforcement effects.” RADM Jones said.

“The Australian community can be assured these fishers will be detected and our response will be swift.”

AFMA General Manager, Fisheries Operation, Justin Bathurst said as well as facing destruction of their vessel and seizure of catch and equipment, these foreign fishers will be subject to a thorough investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution for offences against Australian law.

“Australia’s well managed fisheries and highly protected marine parks are an attractive choice for illegal foreign fishers,” Mr Bathurst said.

“This multi-agency operation will continue to disrupt illegal activity along our coastline. We continue to combine our resources to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and safeguard valuable fish stocks against exploitation by illegal foreign fishing vessels.”

 A brief, 8 second clip of a crew being apprehended is available here: ABF Media – Video Blur – 29-12-2023 (

/Public Release. View in full here.