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Fish Fines In Doubt

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Published today in Townsville

Fish fines in doubt



MORE than 300 recreational fishermen could have their convictions overturned after a pair of Cairns anglers showed fisheries officers could not accurately place them in Great Barrier Reef marine park green zones.

In a court case the fishing industry has branded an historic win in the fight against unfair penalties for fishing in marine park green zones, anglers David William Burke, 40, and Stephen John Clarke, 39, successfully argued in Cairns Magistrates Court that global positioning systems (GPS) were not accurate enough to prove they were inside a green zone when arrested. The fishermen were caught by fisheries officers angling off Michaelmas Cay on December 9, 2005.

Prosecutors presented evidence from the arresting fisheries officers and a geographic information systems officer.

Defence gave evidence from a marine instructor who has trained up to 700 skippers and a marine electronics engineer with 25 years' experience.

Magistrate Trevor Black found the fishermen not guilty of breaching the Great Barrier Marine Park Act, as prosecutors could not reliably place the defendants within a marine park zone.

Although stopping short of labelling his decision a test case, Mr Black conceded the decision held 'a measure of public interest'.

Mr Burke and Mr Clarke were each awarded $1500 costs.

Cairns solicitor for the pair Myles Thompson described yesterday's win as setting a precedent for potentially most of the 322 fishermen fined and convicted for a similar offence.

"Anybody who's been convicted of an offence based upon GPS evidence should write to the federal Attorney-General and demand that their record be expunged," Mr Thompson said.

"Mr (Philip) Ruddock is going to be a busy lad."

The Federal Government late last year amended previous penalties to give enforcement officers the ability to issue on-the-spot fines to recreational fishers found illegally fishing in green zones, rather than a fine and a criminal conviction.

Queensland Fishing Party chairman Kevin Collins said the historic win would put pressure on legislators to revisit 'flawed' evidence against recreational fishermen.

"A significant precedent exists in so far that if a speed camera is found to be faulty, then everyone who has been fined using that speed camera ultimately has their fine repaid," Mr Collins said.

"We've got to work through the legal process now and just see what's involved in that.

"It has fairly major ramifications."

Recreational fisherman Ray Critelli, who has spent close to $10,000 in legal fees arguing fisheries officers landed him in a green zone because of a plotting mistake, said he would now look into further legal action


Shane Boese

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