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Former commercial fisher in hot water over shark catch

Robert Andrew Giles, 32, of Airlie Beach faced Mackay District Court, pleading guilty to three counts of taking an action for a commercial purpose in a Commonwealth reserve. The charges related to fishing in a restricted zone.
Robert Andrew Giles, 32, of Airlie Beach faced Mackay District Court, pleading guilty to three counts of taking an action for a commercial purpose in a Commonwealth reserve. The charges related to fishing in a restricted zone. Luke Mortimer

THE former skipper of a fishing vessel, who now operates a charter boat at Airlie Beach, has been fined after catching sharks in protected waters.

Robert Andrew Giles, 32, fished in restricted zones off the coast of Tasmania, hauling in hundreds of kilograms of sharks and other fish over three separate occasions.

There's been a significant court delays, as the offences occurred back in 2013 when Giles was on his first trip as skipper after more than a decade as a deckhand.

Giles faced Mackay District Court on Thursday without a lawyer, pleading guilty to three counts of taking an action for a commercial purpose in a Commonwealth reserve on April 14, between May 27-28, and on June 25 in 2013.

Giles' activities while master of the commercial gillnet vessel Challenger were described as reckless and environmentally damaging by Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutor Sophie Harburg.

The first offence, on April 14, 2013 involved a "single gillnet fishing shot where 140kg of gummy shark was caught and sold".

Authorities latched on to that thanks to "data obtained from the defendant's onboard chat plotter and the logbooks", Ms Harburg said.

The second offence between May 27 and 28 was detected "via the vessel's onboard monitoring system", which communicates with Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

" ... it was detected in its entirety once logbooks were received from the defendant. The logbooks disclosed eight gillnet fishing shots across the two days." Ms Harburg said.

A catch of 568kg (of an unknown species) was caught and sold, but Giles disputed that many gillnet shots had been made.

Ms Harburg said the third offence, on June 25, 2013, was again picked up through the Challenger's monitoring system.

"Tasmanian police then intercepted the defendant's vessel the following day and once they boarded the vessel they viewed a single shot on the vessel's onboard plotter ... ," Ms Harburg said.

"That shot was visibly in the sanctuary zone of the Commonwealth Marine Reserve."

The shot resulted in a catch of 69kg of an unknown species.

Police noticed the boundary of the reserve was visible on the Challenger's on-board instrumentation.

" ... the defendant stated that he didn't know what the line (on the instrumentation) depicted," Ms Harburg said.

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Giles took part in a police interview, in which he made significant admissions, in July, 2013.

He told police he'd tried to contact Fisheries and the like to check where he could and couldn't fish, but came up short.

Ms Harburg said Giles "took a risk" and had "followed other vessels in the area".

Giles reiterated in court he'd attempted to check restricted zones and if he'd known he was in a reserve he would not have fished.

Ms Harburg said chart plotter programs were available which notify fishermen of prohibited areas.

Giles said they were unavailable for commercial fishermen and Ms Harburg replied "they're expensive, but fishermen who choose to do the right thing incur that cost".

All of Giles offences occurred in the Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

Giles told the court he "just didn't have the right information" and he'd been honest about his mistakes from the start.

"I took a risk and it hasn't paid off," he said.

He told the court he only made $800 for the fish caught and added he'd ceased fishing, largely due to overbearing government regulation.

Giles had previously been convicted of fishing in a dolphin observation zone, contrary to the terms of his fishing licence.

Judge Douglas McGill said experts indicated significant bycatch and negative affects to top-tier predators, like sharks, was a likely result of fishing in restricted zones.

But he said Giles was "open and honest with authorities" and had been careless, rather than reckless.

He also took into account Giles plea at the earliest time possible, financial and work circumstances and his generally "good character".

Giles was fined $5000 in total and a conviction was recorded.

He declined to comment when approached after the hearing.

Topics:  airlie beach commonwealth marine reserve court fishing vessel mackay district court protect waters robert andrew giles sharks

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