Shock find for border force officials in luggage at Melbourne airport

Two “fish enthusiasts” are on the hook for an eye-watering fine after twice attempting to smuggle more than 100 live fish into Australia in their suitcases.

Chun Lok Chi and business partner Linh Thi My Chau were caught at Melbourne airport in January 2020 with plastic bags filled with ornamental fish swimming around in water.

The incident came just a month after Mr Chi tried to smuggle live fish into Australia in similar circumstances.

The pair were slapped with a $54,000 fine by the Federal Court last week following an investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Mr Chi and Ms Chau were described in the judgment as being “fish enthusiasts” who buy and sell ornamental fish and aquarium equipment on Facebook and Gumtree.

Mr Chi first caught the attention of border officials on December 29, 2019 when his suitcase raised eyebrows after it passed through an X-ray machine.

On further inspection, the suitcase was found to contain four insulated bags, each containing a separate plastic bag filled with water that contained live freshwater fish.

The fish in the plastic bags found in Mr Chi’s suitcase included plecos, arowana and snakeheads and were not declared on his incoming passenger card (IPC).

He was issued with a $420 infringement notice for providing a false or misleading IPC, which he paid.

However, 31 days later Mr Chi again touched down at Melbourne airport on a flight from Hong Kong with live fish in his checked baggage.

When he was asked what was in his bag, Mr Chi replied: “Fish”.

But this time his business partner, Ms Chau, was also found with the contraband.

Asked whether there were any fish in her bag, Ms Chau replied: “Yes, I have some fish.”

On both occasions the fish were euthanised and stored by the department.

Mr Chi was slapped with a $37,000 fine for two contraventions of section 186(1) and one contravention of section 533(1) of the Biosecurity Act 201, while Ms Chau was ordered to pay $17,000 for the same offences.

Justice Shaun McElwaine said while the “importations were not sophisticated” he could not accept Mr Chi’s actions were “anything other than well planned”.

“Being caught, the issue of an infringement notice and the destruction of the fish on that occasion was ineffective,” he said in his April 19 ruling.

Mr McElwaine said the pair had co-operated at “all stages”, demonstrated remorse and “even pleaded guilty” on their first appearance in his courtroom.

It’s the first time civil penalties have been issued under the scaled-up Biosecurity Act.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Murray Watt described the judgment as a “significant milestone” and a deterrent to all travellers.

“Some of the fish that were attempted to be smuggled into our country are considered pest species to Australia and they posed a huge risk to human, animal and plant health,” he said.

“Tough civil penalties apply to those who break the law, and all travellers should be aware that serious breaches of Australia’s biosecurity laws may result in civil penalty proceedings being brought against you.

“This is a great example of why we must ensure our biosecurity system has long-term sustainable funding to protect our environment and agricultural sectors from exotic pests and diseases.”

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