False returns could lead to big fines for commercial fisherman

A 52 year-old Bunbury man has pleaded guilty to making false entries in catch and effort returns submitted for some of his commercial fishing operations.

Nicholas Emanuel Soulos appeared in a Bunbury court today to face 26 charges, including 17 offences related to the lodging of returns, submitted under Western Australia’s Fish Resources Management Regulations and nine charges of selling specimen shells, without a licence as required under the Fish Resources Management Act.

Magistrate Vivien Edwards this afternoon remanded Soulos for sentencing next Friday, 27 June 2008.

The offences carry maximum fines of $5,000 for false return offences or up to $10,000 for the illegal sale of specimen shells, plus mandatory additional penalties of $12,880. Further criminal fraud charges against Soulos were adjourned to 21 July 2008 for legal advice.

The court was told that regulations required commercial fishers to submit accurate catch and effort returns for each of their licensed vessels, for every month’s fishing activity and that between 2005 and 2007 Soulos submitted a number of false entries for vessels operated by him as part of his family business.

Evidence was presented to show that vessels named in returns had not actually taken part in fishing activities on dates specified in the entries.

For example, between the period of April 2006 and January 2007, the accused’s licensed fishing boat LFB E32 was damaged, removed from the water and placed on a hard stand for repairs by a shipwright in Bunbury. The vessel was eventually sold by the accused and transported to Victoria by road in October 2006.

During the time it was out of the water and on dates the boat was interstate, the accused submitted a number of false catch and effort returns for fishing activity from it.

Following today’s court outcome, Department of Fisheries’ Central Support Services Manager, Ian Jones said the offences were serious and carried out over a long period.

“Not only were the false entries made between 2005 and 2007, the other matters related to the illegal sale of 378 specimen shells, which occurred over three years. As an experienced fisherman, Soulos should have been well aware of the legal requirements,” Mr Jones said.

“WA’s fisheries are regulated to help ensure the careful management of the community’s valuable marine resources and the long term sustainability of fish stocks.”