Four recent cases brought to court under the Federal Fishery General Regulations and the Fisheries Act have resulted in fines totalling $136,420, in addition to other penalties, including a $60,000 fine to Yarmouth Bar Fisheries.
Yarmouth Justice Centre - TINA COMEAU PHOTO
[YARMOUTH, NS] - Four recent cases brought to court under the Federal Fishery General Regulations and the Fisheries Act have resulted in fines totalling $136,420, in addition to other penalties, including a $60,000 fine to a Yarmouth County fish buying company.
These convictions were the result of extensive investigations by fishery officers from Meteghan, Sydney and Bridgewater into what DFO is calling serious violations of fishery law.
A Yarmouth County fish buyer was recently fined $60,000 after pleading guilty to what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans referred to as the illegal retention of Atlantic halibut — something DFO calls a major conviction under the federal fishery regulations and the Fisheries Act.
Yarmouth Bar Fisheries, owned by Wade Nickerson, entered the guilty plea in Yarmouth provincial court last month. The guilty plea was for the offence of purchasing, possessing or selling halibut that was caught in contravention of the Fisheries Act and/or regulations. Other charges that were on the court docket that day were dismissed after the company entered the guilty plea.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the offence was committed between December 2009 and January 2010 and came to light following an analysis of the company’s books that began in March 2010.
Neither Nickerson, nor his company, fished the halibut that was said to be caught in contravention of the Fisheries Act and/or regulations. But lawyer Clifford Hood said from a financial standpoint, it’s easier for a company to plead guilty than to have to fight the matter in court since the cost of fighting the case is going to far exceed what a fine might be.
But Hood said cases like these leads to the question, how much due diligence is expected of a company purchasing fish?
Using lobster as an example, Hood says, “The person buying, whether he be an individual or a company who is issued a licence to buy by the province, has to do what? Has he got to ask the person selling the lobster, did you catch these lobsters in a trap that had legal escape mechanisms? Did you catch them in a zone that you were authorized to catch them in? Did you catch them in a trawl that had untagged traps? On and on and on.”
Hood said Nickerson and his company kept names, addresses and social insurance numbers of the people the halibut was purchased from, and the payments were made by cheque, not by cash, indicating there was no attempt to hide anything.
“They go over there and serve a demand on him,” he says about his client. “He gives them the information. Then they come in with a search warrant. They go through every record he’s got, then they start matching up those names, the dates, with the records for those fishermen on the boats they were on to see what they came in with through the hale system.”
In this case there were instances where fish was purchased that had been in excess of the amount that had been haled on the vessel where it was caught.
Hood suggests many fishermen find themselves victim to policy, whereby too low limitations are set on how much halibut they can legally bring back to the wharf when quotas or catch rates are unfairly distributed amongst fleets, making it difficult for them to earn a living against the expenses they pay.
Hood also suggests, from a generic standpoint, that going after buyers who keep records of their transactions risks sending business underground.
“Here’s the sin of this. It’s only the bigger guys that do it by the book and pay that are going to get nailed. All the cash guys running around, all of the scallywags are going to walk away from this with no problems at all,” said Hood. “That encourages people not to sell to the established fish buyer and sends it out to the black market.”
But the department of fisheries and oceans says investigating cases of fish caught in contravention to the regulations and act, whether the charges are laid against the fishermen or the buyers, is aimed at ensuring there isn’t business happening under the table and that fish is not being brought back to shore illegally. The department notes that the provincial government sets out onuses for buyers to ensure the fish they buy has been caught legitimately. It's an expectation of doing business.
Other recent fisheries convictions from elsewhere in the province include the following:
Two separate fines, totaling $52,420 were imposed last month in provincial court in Bridgewater. Elmer Leon Jollymore of Little Tancook Island was given a fine of $42,420.30, in addition to the suspension of his groundfish license for one year. Edward Glen Boutilier, formerly of Hubbards, was fined $10,000 and had his groundfish, mackerel and herring licenses cancelled for life.
Boutilier and his company are further prohibited from applying for or owning a commercial fishing license for the rest of his life. An investigation by federal fishery officers revealed that the offences under the Federal Fishery (General) Regulations and Fisheries Act, in relation to selling unreported groundfish catches, were committed at Blandford, N.S., which led to a search at Deep Cove Aqua Farms Ltd. Jollymore and Boutilier pled guilty to three charges: failure to hale accurate weights, failing to determine an accurate weight at dockside immediately after the fish has been landed and selling fish caught in contravention of the Fisheries Act or Regulations.
Meanwhile, Robert Moses Truckair of Glace Bay was fined $24, 000 by Provincial Court Judge Patrick Curran and forfeited a $15,000 bond last month after being convicted of five counts of fishing in an unauthorized area. The charges arose from illegal activity in crab fishing area 24 in 2009 when Truckair was only authorized to fish in crab fishing area 23. Fishery Officers using the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) found that Truckair had made five fishing trips into crab fishing area 24 between May 11 and June 4, 2009. Fishery officers aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louisbourg later located and seized 35 snow crab traps belonging to Truckair in the unauthorized area.