A crackdown on the illegal collection of cockles from Lake Illawarra has netted only a handful of fishers doing the wrong thing, despite thousands of the shellfish being seized by authorities.
Figures obtained by the Mercury reveal NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries officers conducted almost 300 inspections on fishers and shellfish collectors in the lake area between Christmas Eve and January 6.
While the majority of those inspected were doing the right thing (officers reported a 75 per cent compliance rate), a number of fines and written warnings were issued for breaches of fishing laws.
Fisheries officers detected 37 offences during the two-week crackdown and issued 11 penalty notices totalling $2800.
Nineteen written warnings were also handed out, while a number of other offences have been marked for further investigation, a DPI spokeswoman said.
“Most of these offences related to the collection of invertebrates, in particular cockles,” she said.
More than 2300 cockles were seized during the apprehensions or were located unattended by officers during patrols. Most of them were returned to the waters of Lake Illawarra alive.
The daily bag limit for cockles is 50 per person. However, some people have been spotted with hundreds of the sought-after shellfish in recent weeks.
Penalties for the illegal collection of cockles and other shellfish range from on-the-spot fines of $500 for a first offence to $44,000 and/or 12 months in jail for subsequent offences.
Fisheries officers can also seize fishing gear, vehicles and boats connected to offences.
Members of the public have been warned against interacting with people they suspect are illegally fishing, and instead report their concerns to the Fishers Watch phone line on 1800 043 536.
Fisheries officers shift from Lake Illawarra
The DPI says its ability to crack down on illegal fishing activities remains unchanged, despite the closure of its waterside office at Lake Illawarra.
The Illawarra Fisheries office on Reddall Parade was sold in November.
The spokeswoman said the sale would “have no impact on the local fisheries compliance operations, as the fisheries officers are still based in the area and continue to patrol the same waterways”.
Ten officers undertake compliance patrols across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.
Five of them are based at Port Kembla, but two work for a mobile statewide operations and investigations squad.
Additional resources can be tasked to conduct patrols in response to “emerging compliance issues”, such as the illegal collection of cockles in Lake Illawarra, the spokeswoman said.