Fishery violators get away without paying fines

More than $1 million uncollected, salmon inquiry hears

Fishery officers can catch and fine violators

A huge number of fines issued for illegal fishing have gone unpaid, raising serious questions about the federal fisheries department’s ability to deter poaching.

More than $1 million in fines are currently unpaid in B.C., officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) disclosed in recent testimony before the Cohen Commission into the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Since most fines are less than $5,000, the total unpaid reflects hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals who have refused to pay, confirmed Randy Nelson, DFO’s assistant director of conservation and protection.

Nor is there any mechanism with any teeth to enforce payment.

“We don’t have a system to collect and follow up,” Nelson said under questioning before the inquiry April 8. “It is of concern to officers.”

Paul Steele, DFO’s national director-general for conservation and protection, told the inquiry the problem gets discussed “from time to time” but the department has been reluctant to spend the money required to pursue unpaid fines.

He also said DFO has trouble getting other government agencies to collect fines on its behalf and fishery officers may also lack the legal powers to execute warrants themselves to enforce payment.

Steele admitted under questioning from lawyer Don Rosenbloom the situation threatens to undermine DFO enforcement efforts.

“If it’s widely known that a person could potentially get off without paying a fine, then that could have an effect on compliance and the deterrence level, yes,” he said.

The more than $1 million in unpaid fines is a cumulative total that’s built up over the years and includes all outstanding fines for Fisheries Act violations – illegal fishing by sports anglers, First Nations and commercial fishermen as well as habitat violations.

Rosenbloom said later he was “shocked” by DFO’s admission of outstanding fines and its failure so far to act.

Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, also said he was disappointed by the high number.

“The environment and the fish are the losers when we don’t collect those fines,” Orr said, noting the money can often be channelled into stewardship projects or habitat restoration.

“They need to improve that system,” said Sto:lo fishery adviser Ernie Crey, another regular observer at the sockeye inquiry, who pointed to impending budget cuts at the department.

“They’re about to lose $57 million over the next two years. And they need to find ways of collecting this money if they hope to enjoy credibility on the fishing grounds. So you have a double incentive to go collect these fines.”

Dennis Brown, author of the book Salmon Wars and a researcher watching the commission, said illegal fishing at upriver sites has been repeatedly flagged as a concern by past inquiries and DFO’s disclosure will anger commercial fishermen.

“We see less and less enforcement in the budget,” Brown said. “If they are that badly off they can’t even collect fines for the convictions they’ve got, our resource is dreadfully in peril.”

Just Posted

Marine Harvest Upper Island Riptide U18 Girls bring home provincial gold

“This has been an extra-ordinary season with a diverse group of young ladies…”

Port Alice considers taking back Link River

Village debates not renewing agreement with RDMW

Living with obsessive compulsive disorder

The Big Read: Vancouver Island mom calls for more mental health services as son battles OCD

Port Alice Community Market open for business

The community market has been a draw to members of the community, as well as to tourists.

Sea otter tours offer unique opportunity to explore Neroutsos Inlet

“We saw sea otters, seals, eagles, some deer, and some history.”

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

Fishin’ Corner: The Deserters Group is a pretty good early chinook producer

“This year salmon fishing has been pretty good, with the average size spring around 20-25 lbs.”

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Almost every part of Canada’s largest national park deteriorating: federal study

Drawing on decades of research — the report lists 50 pages of citations

Activists protest outside Kinder Morgan terminal in kayaks, canoes

Tsleil-Waututh elder Ta’ah Amy George led the water ceremony from a traditional Coast Salish canoe

Most Read