Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

The Illegal Market in Australian Abalone

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

The Illegal Market in Australian Abalone

Article excerpt

For some time there has been growing concern about the illegal trafficking of Australian abalone (a highly prized shellfish delicacy). As global populations of the resource decline, increased pressure is placed on Australia's abalone fishery to meet ongoing international demand. This strong demand, which is not being fully met through the legitimate trade, creates incentives for people to supply the black market with stolen or "poached" abalone. Abalone has become an attractive criminal commodity, and reports suggest that a profitable illegal market exists alongside the legitimate market. While abalone poached from Australian waters may find its way into the domestic market, the majority is destined for overseas export.

The first question always asked is "what is the size and value of the illegal market?" On the basis of information currently available, the Australian Institute of Criminology has not been able to answer this question. The AIC has a strong research interest in illicit markets and this paper explores the nature of the illicit market in Australian abalone. It examines the various players involved in this illegal trade, vulnerabilities in the legitimate industry, and potential options for disrupting the illicit market. Adam Gravear


The increasing scarcity of abalone-producing reefs overseas and the growing pressure on Australia's abalone fishery to meet global demand have placed Australian abalone at a premium. While total allowable catch (TAC) limits on abalone harvesting have been set by each abalone-producing state in Australia to protect this resource, ongoing demand from consumers, coupled with high profits to be made from abalone sales, are providing the incentive for further amounts to be harvested illegally. The purpose of this paper is to explore such illegal harvesting and, more specifically, the illicit market in Australian abalone.


This paper is based on research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology on behalf of the Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute of Fisheries Victoria. The project involved analysis of fisheries-related intelligence and compliance data in order to derive an estimate of the scale of illegal abalone catches in Australia. Although a quantitative exercise, much qualitative information came to light during the course of the project and forms the basis of the following discussion.

Information was obtained through three principal means:

* discussions with a range of stakeholders, including fisheries officers from all Australian jurisdictions, personnel from other law enforcement agencies responsible for fisheries compliance (such as Tasmania Police and the Australian Customs Service) and a range of abalone industry representatives;

* a comprehensive review of abalone-related intelligence and compliance data holdings in all jurisdictions; and

* a review of media and other literature.

Regulation in the Abalone Industry

To ensure protection of Australia's abalone fishery and avoid overexploitation, there is strong regulation of the abalone industry in Australia. In addition to TAC limits, there is an abalone licensing system which restricts the number of people who can legally harvest abalone. Abalone dive licenses are a valuable commercial asset, realising up to $2 million when traded.

Respective state fisheries agencies undertake continuous assessment, monitoring and management of the abalone fishery. Each state has legislation and associated regulations outlining permitted and prohibited activity in the abalone fishery. Although certain regulatory controls pertain across all abalone fishing in Australia (such as minimum size limits and closed fishing seasons, which apply to commercial and recreational fishers alike), regulation is heavily focused on the commercial sector.

All commercial abalone divers must complete catch records upon landing their daily take of abalone. …

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