Three members of Leeman fishing family fined $70,000 for selling rock lobster on black market

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Liam BeattyMidwest Times
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Seized rock lobster in evidence bags in the case against three members of a Leeman family.
Camera IconSeized rock lobster in evidence bags in the case against three members of a Leeman family. Credit: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

Three members of a Leeman fishing family have been fined a total of more than $70,000 after they were busted in an undercover sting selling illegally caught rock lobsters on the black market.

Ronald Francis Dennis, 29, and his parents Ronald George Dennis, 67, and Lorna Francis Weeks, 67, were caught in the sting selling lobsters to undercover Fisheries officials on four occasions.

The trio pleaded guilty in December last year shortly after they were charged.

In Geraldton Magistrate’s Court on Monday the three offenders failed to appear and were convicted in their absence.

Prosecutor Aleksandra Miller told the court two officers were tasked with infiltrating the Leeman community after receiving “credible intelligence” on illegal lobster sales.

The trio, who did not have a commercial licence to fish, then sold 40kg of lobsters to the Fisheries officers on four occasions between June 2018 and April 2019, “schooling” them on how to avoid detection from authorities.

Magistrate Chris Miocevich found the family members were motivated by profit and intentionally broke the law.

“They were recorded specifically telling undercover officials to keep it quiet,” he said. “This continued over some period of time and represents high level offending.”

He said it was “concerning” the trio appeared to have knowledge of other sales of illegally caught rock lobster.

“Black market offenders such as these, undermine the sustainability of the industry,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate the operation continued for so long but it’s sometimes necessary to uncover the true extent of the illegal activity.”

Recreational fishing licences for the father and son were cancelled by Mr Miocevich because they “abused the right to recreationally fish for profit”.

However he decided not to ban them from being on a recreational vessel as Ms Miller had requested.

The family was not represented by a lawyer, but wrote two letters to the court apologising for their activity.

Weeks wrote in to the magistrate to say she was a disability pensioner and said “I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have gotten involved with my husband and son”.

Similarly, her husband wrote in to say he was “glad” the matter was being dealt with because he had been “sick with stress”.

"I am sorry these matters happened," he said.

Ronald Francis Dennis was ordered to pay $32,410.70 in fines and court costs while his father received a penalty of $18,815.70 and his mother $20,620.70.

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