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Illegal Market in Australian Abalone

NCJ Number
Rebecca Tailby; Frances Gant
Date Published
April 2002
6 pages
This study examined the nature of the illicit market in Australian abalone, the various players involved in this illegal trade, vulnerabilities in the legitimate industry, and potential options for disrupting the illicit market.
As global populations of abalone (a highly prized shellfish delicacy) decline, increased pressure is placed on Australia's abalone fishery to meet ongoing international demand. This demand, which is not being fully met through the legitimate trade, creates incentive for people to supply the black market with stolen or "poached" abalone. The current study analyzed fisheries-related intelligence information and compliance data in order to obtain an estimate of the scale of illegal abalone catches in Australia. In addition, information was obtained from a range of stakeholders, including fisheries officers from all Australian jurisdictions, personnel from other law enforcement agencies responsible for fisheries compliance, and a range of abalone industry representatives. Relevant media and other literature were reviewed as well. The study found that despite the extensive regulatory framework that governs Australia's abalone fishery, illegal abalone harvesting and trading does occur. This report describes the methods by which abalone is poached outside of the licensed sector, with attention to the organized characteristics of such poaching. There is no one identifiable pathway for the movement of illegal abalone from the ocean to the consumer; the abalone may move through a number of hands before reaching the end consumer. Legal and illegal abalone is predominantly intended for export, but it is usually first sold domestically to buyers who then do the exporting. Due to the clandestine nature of its harvest and subsequent handling, poached abalone may be of poor quality and a subsequent risk to the health of consumers. This can adversely affect the image of Australian abalone on the international market. Difficulties in policing illegal activity within the industry stem from the fact that illegal harvesting occurs offshore and can take place at any number of sites along Australia's extensive southern coastline. Illegal processing can likewise occur almost anywhere, and there are possibilities of cross-border movement of stolen abalone. Continued assessment, monitoring, regulation, and policing of the licensed and unlicensed abalone sectors are key strategies that must be used to enforce the strict laws that govern Australia's abalone fishery. 1 figure and 7 references