Four Victorian men were able to pay off a $200,000 boat in two years with their illegally earned profits.
A group of fish and chip shop operators are paying a big price for 16 months worth of illegal fishing activity. In fact, this is Victoria's biggest illegal fishing sting ever.
Mustafa Meric, 38, Burhan Tolga Meric, 40, Wayne Robert McLean, 49, and Rodney Paul Light, 39, pleaded guilty in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court to various offenses, some of which resulted in some pretty stiff sanctions.
The Meric got the worst of it, as the investigation indicated Mustafa was the primary offender and Burhan was the one responsible for selling the fish at his shop.
The two Camperdown men pleaded guilty to several crimes attached to illegally taking $50,000 worth of fish on 34 total outings. The two also confessed to possessing two sawed-off .22 firearms, plus ammunition for them.
Mustafa originally faced charges for 80 different offenses, but was ultimately able to compress them into five.
The two had to serve three months in jail and pay $9,500 each in fines. Authorities then confiscated their boat, Flaked Out, which they'd put $200,000 toward using money from their illegal operation.
McLean, a deckhand who partook in 31 outings, didn't get his quite as hard, as he only had to sever a two-month jail term and pay $7,500 in fines. However, he and the Merics all received a 10-year ban from all fishing.
Light, who was only part of six fishing trips, walked away with a slap on the wrist in comparison, as he didn't have to serve a jail sentence, but did receive a $6,000 fine and a 1-year ban from fishing.
"It's by far the biggest take-for-sale case ever in Victoria," fisheries prosecutor John Livitsanos told The Standard. "We've never seen anything like this in terms of size, duration, quantity and objective gravity. You have the owners of a fish and chip shop illegally taking and processing fish for financial gain."
According to the Standard, Livitsanos the investigation comprised the sifting of hundreds of hours of surveillance footage, which was eventually enough to incriminate the group.
The group was mostly fishing for sharks between Aug. 8, 2016 and Jan. 5, 2018 all over Victoria and New South Wales, and sold them, as well as other fish, without a commercial fishing license.
To sneak past fisheries inspections, they would clean the fish at sea and hide them in the anchor well. But between the video surveillance footage and undercover fisheries officers buying fish from the shop, it was only a matter of time before enough evidence stacked up against them.
According to Magistrate Franz Holzer, only money motivated the fishermen, who he said were undoubtedly aware of the severity of their actions.