Illegal Foreign Fishing

Illegal foreign fishing activity poses a serious threat to the sustainability of Australia’s fisheries resources and our nation’s sovereignty in general. Illegal foreign fishing vessels also pose quarantine risks to Australia. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) encourages recreational fishers to play their part in the fight against illegal fishing by reporting any sighting of foreign fishing or suspect vessels.

Australian Government agencies have issued the following guidelines to help recreational and commercial fishers to act safely and sensibly if you come across foreign fishing vessels in north Australian waters:

  • For health and safety reasons, it is most important that you do not board a foreign fishing vessel or allow anyone from a foreign fishing vessel to board your boat. Allowing foreign fishermen or any goods from a foreign fishing vessel onto your boat will make it subject to Quarantine and it will need to be inspected by Quarantine next time you are in port.
  • Be aware that civilians are not authorised to act on behalf of government agencies. For this reason, any sightings of foreign fishing vessels or other suspicious vessels should be immediately reported to the
  • Customs Hotline on 1800 06 1800. Do not wait for office hours – Customs Hotline operates 24 hours a day. If you are unable to reach Customs on that number call Coastwatch Darwin (24 hours) on 0413 271 260.
  • Customs will ask questions such as the position of the sighting, type of vessel (i.e. motorised or sail power), the number of people sighted, whether the vessel is close to land and, if so, whether any people can be seen ashore. Customs will also request your contact phone number in case any follow-up action is required.
  • Foreign fishermen may request food and water. It is up to you to decide whether to provide these but do not allow them onto your boat and be aware that it could encourage them to return if you are remaining in the area.
  • If the fishermen accept food and water from you, do not take back any of the supplies, including water containers or any other items from their vessel as this could make your boat and the people on board quarantine risks.
  • If you fear for the safety of the foreign fishermen and/or their vessel, you should report this to AusSAR (Search and Rescue) and also advise Customs when you call.

Matters of interest to Coastwatch

Officers from Navy patrol boat HMAS Fremantle board a suspected illegal fishing boat
Photo: Australian Customs Service

Coastwatch operates over a vast geographic area, for a diverse range of client agencies including Customs. As recreational fishers venturing into the more remote parts of the Top End coast, you can help by immediately reporting any suspicious signs or activities to CustomsCoastwatch conducts regular surveillance flights around Australia, including the Top End. It detects and responds to illegal activities in Australian waters, identifies and reports on marine pollution and other environmental incidents and helps conserve marine mammals by monitoring and recording sightings from the air.

Who to call
Customs Hotline (24 hours) 1800 06 1800
Coastwatch Darwin (24 hours) 0413 271 260
AusSAR Hotline (24 hours) 1800 64 1792