British Columbia

Richmond fish broker fined $77,500 for selling endangered abalone

A Richmond exporter has been fined $77,500 for possessing northern abalone, an endangered shellfish whose numbers have been in sharp decline since the 1970s.

DFO says shellfish was concealed in a warehouse room

Frozen abalone discovered during a DFO inspection. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

A Richmond retailer has been fined $77,500 for possessing abalone, an endangered shellfish whose numbers have been in sharp decline since the 1970s.

A provincial court judge fined N G Fung Enterprises earlier this month for violating federal species protection laws that forbid the sale and harvesting of the endangered shellfish, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The company was also convicted of obstructing a fisheries officer.

Northern abalone, which is found off West Coast waters extending up to Alaska, is sold at premium prices, from between $50 to $100 each.

DFO spokesperson, Tom Hlavac, said the vendor was a broker who sold to restaurants and also had a retail outlet. Inspectors visited the warehouse three times between 2013 and 2015.

They discovered abalone in a concealed room.

The inspectors took samples each time and had them tested at a lab in Nanaimo, B.C., which revealed that it was indeed Canadian northern abalone.

Fishery closed in 1990

The abalone fishery closed in Canada in 1990 after its numbers dropped dramatically, said Hlavac, acting director of conservation and protection for the DFO's Pacific region.

He said inspectors routinely receive tips about the illegal sale of abalone. In one case, a group harvested 12,000 over a period of several days

"It was actually quite shocking," Hlavac said. "Many of those fish died, because we couldn't get them back in the water quick enough."

But fishing and poaching of the shellfish has continued, in part because there is a high demand. Dried abalone is also used for medicinal purposes.

"A bowl of abalone soup might sell for $12, and it will have a sliver of dried abalone in it," Hlavac said. 

It is still legal to fish abalone off Mexico and parts of the U.S. West Coast and import it for sale in Canada.

The Species at Risk Act forbids the capture and sale of Canadian northern abalone, which has been declared an endangered species.

Obstructed fishery officer

The Richmond retailer was also fined for obstructing a fisheries officer when he failed to disclose his entire fish inventory to inspectors, Hlavac said.

N G Fung Enterprises is operated by Chi Fai Kwok, according to the DFO.

Kwok pleaded guilty to the charges.

Hlavac said it's hard for consumers to know for certain if the abalone they purchase in stores and restaurants is legally imported to Canada.

Consumers with information about illegal abalone are urged to call a DFO tipline at 1-800-465-4336.

In 2003, northern abalone was listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act, which aims to prevent endangered and threatened wildlife from becoming extinct and to help in its recovery.

In 2011, the shellfish's status was upgraded to endangered.