'Red Baron' fishing boat seized, owner banned over stolen Mandurah rock lobster pots

A fly-in fly-out worker who swapped the identification markings of a Mandurah commercial fisherman's lobster pots for his own has been fined $10,000, had his boat pulled from the water and had his fishing licence suspended.

Jason Keith Knowler launched his boat ‘Red Baron’ from the Bent Street boat ramp in Safety Bay on December 14 last year and motored to waters around Coventry Reef, the Rockingham Magistrates Court heard on Monday.

The Department of Fisheries prosecutor said Knowler hauled in four rock lobster pots belonging to a commercial fisherman and stole a number of lobsters that had been caught inside them.

He then cut loose the commercial fisherman’s identification floats before replacing them with his own and resetting the traps in the water.

But the lobster pots were also engraved with the commercial fisherman’s identification number, and after Fisheries began surveillance on Knowler, all four stolen pots were eventually recovered from waters around Coventry Reef and returned to their rightful owner.

Knowler had flown out of Perth for his FIFO job on the afternoon of December 14, and was later interviewed by Fisheries in January for a video record in which he admitted being aboard the ‘Red Baron’ that day, but denied interfering with any fishing gear.

However, on Monday he pleaded guilty in his absence to a range of charges, and Magistrate Richard Hutson ordered the seizure of Knowler’s boat, outboard engine, trailer, GPS, floats and ropes.

He was also fined $10,000 and his fishing licence suspended for 12 months.

In a statement, Fisheries said its blitz on rock lobster offences known as Operation Bagana is ever vigilant.

“Offences like gear interference are a direct act against other fishers,” a spokesperson said.

“Operation Bagana has a zero tolerance to gear interference and Fisheries Officers will continue to work hard to catch those acting dishonestly.

“Those that are caught can expect to receive significant penalties and forfeiture of their gear and/or vessels.”