Life of a Fisheries Officer, Neil McLaughlan

Collection Highlights | Updated 4 years ago

A sail boat heading towards harbour
Fisheries patrol vessel, Kooruldhoo, circa 1950
Image copyright of WA Museum

Neil McLaughlan was born in September 1932. As a child he was a keen fisherman and sailor. After leaving school he got a job with the Fisheries Department working on the patrol boat, Kooruldhoo. He later graduated to Cadet Inspector in 1951 at a time when Western Australia’s crayfishing (now rock lobster) industry was entering a boom time, exporting crayfish to America.

With considerable sums money to be made, fishermen were lured into illegal activities. While most of the fishermen did not want to be involved in illegal activities, many were lured into the practice to simply compete with other fishermen. Crayfishing spread along the coast to remote areas where the catches were processed onboard freezer boats.

The freezer boats and fishing boats were superior to the Fisheries Department’s patrol vessels like Kooruldhoo, Lancelin and Garbo. At that time there had been no successful departmental action to enforce the legal minimum size for rock lobsters on freezer boats. Patrol boat crews travelling at eight knots could not approach or board the illegal freezer boats by surprise. When inspectors approached any vessel, evidence of under size crayfish were quickly disposed of over the side.

As an Inspector at Geraldton, McLaughlan and his staff drove to remote areas, motored out to remote island in a dinghy and hid until a freeze boat came in to moor. In the early morning the Fisheries staff would board the freezer boats by surprise. The catches were impounded and under sized animals identified. As the Fisheries Departments tactics became more sophisticated and their patrol fleet improved, the illegal practices were phased out, and the industry is now regulated and enforced.

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