Commercial vessel master fined $250,000 for fishing illegally in Glass Sponge Reef Refuge

SECHELT, BC, Feb. 23, 2024 /CNW/ – On January 31, 2024, sentencing was handed down to the vessel master of the commercial prawn fishing vessel Darkstar, after a long-running court case.

The Honourable Judge S.M. Merrick sentenced the individual to pay a fine of $250,000 and forfeit all gear seized (with an approximate value of $80,000) after previously finding him guilty on May 24, 2023, of a total of 13 violations of Canada’s Fisheries Act.

On July 2 and July 3, 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Conservation and Protection fishery officers seized the vessel master’s prawn traps, which were illegally set in the Strait of Georgia Glass Sponge Reef Marine Refuges near Sechelt. This area is protected and closed to all prawn fishing due to the highly sensitive nature of this habitat.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the individual was also in violation between July 2 and September 24, 2020, of the conditions of his commercial licence by hauling gear prior to 7:00 a.m.; failing to keep an accurate log book; failing to provide records in the required time; and having buoys that were in non-compliance with the Fisheries Act regulations. 

During the sentencing hearing, a member of the shíshálh Nation read an impact statement outlining the Nation’s concerns about illegal fishing in the Glass Sponge Reef, which is a globally unique marine refuge Additional testimony was given by DFO expert witness Dr. Anya Dunham. Dr. Dunham gave scientific evidence of the harm caused by the illegal fishing activity within this protected area.

DFO has a mandate to protect and conserve marine resources and to enforce the Fisheries Act. As part of DFO’s work to disrupt and prevent illegal activity, the Department asks the public for information on activities of this nature or any contravention of the Fisheries Act and regulations. Anyone with information can call DFO Pacific region’s toll-free violation reporting line at 1-800-465-4336, or email the details to [email protected].

Quick Facts
  • The vessel master pled guilty to seven of the 13 violations, and the Court declared him guilty of the other six violations.
  • The trial commenced April 25, 2022, continued for 14 days until a guilty verdict was handed down May 24, 2023 and concluded with sentencing on January 31, 2024.
  • A total of 553 commercial prawn traps and 450 lbs. of live prawns were seized and forfeited to the Crown.
  • Commercial prawning setting and hauling of prawn and shrimp gear is permitted only between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
  • British Columbia’s ancient glass sponge reefs are a globally unique ecosystem that are areas of high biodiversity and provide important habitat for many marine animals, including spot prawns, rockfish, herring, halibut and sharks.
  • Glass sponges are remarkable filter-feeding marine animals that live their long lives in deep water. They are slow to reproduce, with skeletons made of nearly pure glass (silica). They are extremely fragile and easily damaged by any human caused disturbance.
  • The Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound Conservation Initiative implements measures to protect and conserve glass sponge reefs on British Columbia’s south coast.
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Additional multimedia

Prawn trap containing glass sponges from the reef, presented as evidence in Court. (CNW Group/Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region)

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SOURCE Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region