British Columbia

337 illegal crab traps pulled from Boundary Bay in 5 day operation

A joint operation between DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard has saved thousands of crabs from ending up on the black market.

The traps were found in a joint operation between DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard

The 337 illegal crab traps pulled from Boundary Bay in a recent five day operation is the most ever. (DFO)

A record 337 illegal commercial crab traps have been seized in Boundary Bay in a five day joint venture between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, potentially saving thousands of crabs from being sold on the black market.

The operation on Jan. 20, 21, 25 and Feb. 1 and 2, used, for the first time, the CCG hovercraft Moytel, which helped enforcement crews pull in more than double the 136 illegal traps netted in a three day operation last winter.

Fisheries officers are now investigating the seized gear to try to identify perpetrators and say charges may follow.

Boundary Bay straddles the Canada-U.S. border, but on the B.C. side, the commercial crab fishery closed in November.

Art Demsky, field supervisor with DFO's conservation and protection unit, said poachers set traps without the required identifiers or locator floats, and then use GPS coordinates to find them later.

Smaller vessels used a dragger to locate illegal traps and the large crane and winch on the CCG hovercraft Moytel (left) pulled them to the surface. (DFO)

"Their intent is to hide these traps," he said. "We're pretty sure this catch gets laundered into the commercial marketplace."

According to Demsky, higher prices driven by demand for crab at Christmas and Chinese New Year is motivation for illegal crabbers. 

He said they pose a major conservation concern by taking undersized crab or females that haven't had a chance to reproduce.

"This is the time of year they start to spawn. We don't want harvests on smaller crab or female crab, and certainly not crab that are spawning or carrying eggs," said Demsky. "That fishery is closed for a reason." 

Because illegal traps have no floats, DFO crews use a grappling hook or "dragger" to locate and snag the "string" or groundline that connects the traps.

Ghost gear is pulled out of the water. (DFO)

The gear was then pulled to the surface using the large crane and winch on the Coast Guard hovercraft.

Demsky said they were surprised to pull up one monster string that was 1.6 kilometres in length with 21 traps attached. Everything caught in the traps was put back in the ocean.

A large quantity of ghost gear — abandoned lines and traps that pose a threat to fish and invertebrates — was also recovered.

Officials says they pulled up a monster groundline that was 1.6 kilometres in length with 21 illegal traps attached. (DFO)

According to DFO, in the past five years similar wintertime operations have yielded:

  • 2017 —  219 traps seized over three days.
  • 2018 — 226 traps seized (approximately 18 strings) over three days.
  • 2019 — 230 traps seized over three days. 
  • 2020 — 136 traps seized (approximately 16 strings) over three days.
  • 2021 — 337 traps seized (approximately 33 strings) over five days.


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