Three men who fished out of the Antigonish area are banned from the catch-and-release bluefin tuna fishery for five years after pleading guilty to a total of 27 charges of illegal fishing.

George Boyle, the license holder and owner of the Zappa 1, along with crew members Dale Trenholm and Evan McDormand, are also prohibited from taking part in the commercial bluefin tuna fishery for two years.  

Boyle, Trenholm and McDormand used gaffs and rope to remove a bluefin tuna from the water during a catch-and-release trip on Oct. 7, 2014, according to an agreed statement of facts submitted in court on Monday.

Fisheries investigation

Fisheries officers question a member of the crew on Zappa 1 during a search of the vessel in Ballantynes Cove on Oct. 8, 2014. (Name withheld by request )

"Trenholm used a knife to kill the tuna, cutting a portion of its underbelly and removing a chunk of meat/skin" and then cut the rope "so that the dead carcass sunk below the water and out of sight," the statement said.

On their way back to port in Ballantynes Cove, "Boyle cooked the chunk of tuna meat on a barbecue with portions consumed by those on board," including undercover federal fisheries officers posing as customers.

The three fishermen were arrested the following day.

Boyle held licences for both the catch-and-release bluefin tuna fishery and the commercial fishery.

Under his commercial licence, he was allowed to catch and retain one tuna for the 2014 season. The first tuna caught had to be tagged.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Boyle caught but failed to tag and retain 22 bluefin tuna over eight days from Sept. 21, 2014 to Oct. 3, 2014.

On October 3 alone, he caught nine fish before tagging and retaining the final one.

Boyle has pleaded guilty to 11 charges, including two under his commercial licence.

Trenholm and McDormand have each pleaded guilty to eight charges.

At least some of the offences under the commercial licence occurred when American angler Stephanie Choate was believed to have been on board the Zappa 1.

Stephanie Choate

Photo posted to Instagram/Stephanie Osgood Choate in October 2014. She is not accused of any legal wrongdoing in this case. (Instagram)

In an information to obtain a search warrant document, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it had reason to believe Choate was in Nova Scotia trying to catch a world record-size bluefin tuna.

Choate was not charged and is not accused of legal wrongdoing in the case.

Along with the prohibition orders, the three fishermen have also been fined. Boyle has been ordered to pay $30,000, Trenholm has been fined $20,000 and McDormand has been fined $15,000.

Crown prosecutor Gerald Grant said he hopes the penalties — and in particular the prohibition orders — will send a message to other fishermen involved in the tuna fishery. Grant said they should understand "that they are jeopardizing their fishery and their licences if this type of activity is going to take place out on the water."

Peter Taylor, the fisheries department's area chief for conservation and protection, said the fines and licence suspensions should act as a deterrent to illegal activity in the tuna fishery.