British Columbia

Fisheries officials seize 316 Canadian crab traps set in U.S. water as part of annual sting

Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have seized 316 crab traps from Canadian boats that they claim were illegally set in U.S. water this month. It's part of an annual enforcement operation coordinated with their American counterparts.

Boundary Bay crab fishing fleet is supposed to stay north of the border between B.C. and Washington

A fishery enforcement officer boards a Canadian crab fishing vessel near the Canada-U.S. border. A coordinated sting involving U.S. and Canadian officials netted 316 seized crab traps set in U.S. water. (DFO)

Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have seized 316 crab traps they claim were illegally set in U.S. water this month, as part of an annual enforcement operation coordinated with their American counterparts.

Art Demsky, field office supervisor with the DFO's conservation and protection detachment, was on the water on the first day of the operation, Sept. 11. He said the conditions were very smokey, with low visibility that made it challenging to catch the fishers crossing the boundary.

Demsky said the traps they seized, along with four vessels from the 24-boat Boundary Bay dungeness crab fishing fleet, may only represent half of  the number of infractions of fishery laws.

"All these vessels have GPS, they know they're fishing over the boundary — they just push the line because there's more crab on the other side of that line," he said.

The Canadian crab season begins in July, while the U.S. season begins in November. Demsky said that toward the end of the Canadian season, fishers will risk fines and forfeitures to reach untapped crab stocks south of the border.

"You have people who push the envelope because it may be worth it for them to do that if they don't get caught, because there's money in crab — there's good money in crab," he said. "Sometimes getting caught and getting fines may be the price of doing business."

An officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans chains a crab fishing vessel to the dock after Canadian traps were set in U.S. water. (DFO)

 Demsky estimates each set of gear —  including a trap, float, ropes and radio frequency ID chip  —  would cost about $500 to replace. DFO will seek the forfeiture of all of them, and the courts will decide whether the fishers will face fines, the loss of their fishing license or vessels. The fines are often several thousand dollars, but can to go a maximum of $500,000 for a first-time offender, according to Demsky.

He said in the past, the fishers have lost all the gear seized, and most of them have pleaded guilty. The fleet is electronically monitored, so location data can be reviewed after the fact. The traps will either be destroyed, or become Crown assets sold back to the fishers at auction.

A DFO officer monitors a commercial fishing vessel during an enforcement operation in Boundary Bay, Sept., 2020. (DFO)

Demsky said the crab fishery isn't necessarily a high-priority for enforcement, but because it's a border issue, they take it seriously.

"We want to make sure that that border remains something that's not disputed and doesn't result in more confrontation," he said.


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