The state’s fishing authority says four people are under investigation for allegedly trying to sell cockles – some of which are believed to have been caught in Lake Illawarra – on social media.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) latest catch comes amid a crackdown on the shellfish behaviour of recreational anglers, who are taking more than their fair share of cockles from the lake.
The daily bag limit for cockles is 50 per person.
However, some recreational fishers have been spotted with hundreds of the sought-after shellfish – including two people who, according to the DPI, were caught collecting 783 cockles under the cover of darkness.
The duo are expected to be issued court attendance notices and could face fines of up to $22,000 and six months in jail, or both.
Since December, the DPI said its fisheries officers had inspected 886 people collecting cockles in Lake Illawarra.
During those inspections, officers detected 188 offences, seized more than 11,000 cockles and issued fines totalling $21,000.
An additional 123 warnings were also issued.
During the same period, fisheries officers also seized more than 3000 cockles from people collecting illegally across Sydney, handing out almost $20,000 worth of fines and issuing 13 warnings.
Three matters are still under investigation and may result in more fines being issued, the DPI said.
The authority also revealed it had uncovered an emerging trend of recreational fishers trying to sell cockles on social media.
“DPI Fisheries recently relocated a fisheries investigator to Sydney to investigate illegal sales of seafood,” it said.
“Four people are being investigated for the illegal sale of cockles, some of which are believed to have come from Lake Illawarra, on social media.
“These people face penalties up to $110,000 if prosecuted. Only licensed, endorsed commercial fishers can take fish to sell in NSW.”
The DPI said commercial fishers must comply with strict rules about how and what they can take, and how they sell the fish, including the safe handling of seafood.
“The message is simple for recreational fishers – stick to the bag limits and don’t sell your fish,” it said.
Suspected illegal fishing activity can be reported via the Fishers Watch hotline on 1800 043 536, online via the DPI website or through the FishSmart NSW app.
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.