British Columbia

'Woefully under-staffed': judge laments fisheries resources in scathing decision

A B.C. provincial court judge lamented the state of protections for Canadian fisheries as she tore a strip off a commercial skipper with a history of repeat fishing violations.

Commercial crab fisher ordered to forfeit traps, fined $20,000 after repeat offences

British Columbia's crab fishery accounts for nearly third of the wholesale value of the province's wild shellfish products. (Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard/AP)

A B.C. judge lamented the state of protections for Canadian fisheries this month as she tore a strip off a commercial skipper with a history of repeat fishing violations.

Powell River Provincial Court Judge Kimberley Arthur-Leung slapped Tuan Huu Le with a $20,000 fine, a four-month fishing prohibition and an order to forfeit his traps after he pleaded guilty to a series of crab fishing offences.

But in coming up with a sentence, she said repeat offenders like Le must know that the penalty for threatening the vitality of a key Canadian resource "must be more than a simplistic cost of doing business."

"The reality of the matter is that Fisheries and Oceans is woefully under-staffed. This incredible country is bound by significant bodies of water. The Pacific Coast is vast and staffing is significantly under-resourced," wrote Arthur-Leung.

"Mr. Le failed to respect the environment. Mr. Le failed to respect his fellow law-abiding fishers. Mr. Le failed to respect the community."

Regulations put in place to protect crab

The case against Le underscores both the challenges of monitoring Canadian coastal fisheries and the frustration felt by law-abiding fishers as they watch others ignore the law seemingly without consequence.

The 32-year-old was charged with four counts of violating the Fisheries Act.

Two of the offences concerned provisions put in place to protect the crab fishery that — according to a victim impact from Fisheries and Oceans Canada — accounts for nearly a third of B.C.'s wild shellfish products.

A B.C. provincial court judge says protections for Canadian fisheries are 'woefully under-staffed.' (CBC)

The licence Le was operating under prohibited him from pulling his traps to the surface more than once a week. Another part of the regulations prohibited leaving the traps in the water for longer than 18 consecutive days.

Bringing the traps up too often increases crab injuries and mortalities, even if they're released. And the 18-day "soak" limit ensures that unnecessary injury and death doesn't occur among the crabs caught in the traps.

'Flagrantly disregarded the law'

"Le told the Coast Guard that he did not read the conditions of the licence and he simply thought he knew the rules," Arthur-Leung wrote.

But she noted that he had no lack of experience in the fishing industry — including four previous violations of the Fisheries Act.

A B.C. provincial court judge has handed a $20,000 fine and a four-month fishing prohibition to a repeat offender caught violating the Fisheries Act. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

"Le flagrantly disregarded the law and the regulations in place," the judge wrote.

"(He) admitted to the Coast Guard officials that he did not read the terms and conditions of licence, despite him being engaged in the industry for a number of years and thus would know the onus is on him to ensure with each and every year and each and every licence that the requirements of operation are carried out."

'A key value held across Canada'

Le, who was born in Vietnam, has some high school credits. He was working on a boat owned by family friends.

His mother operates the family fishing business, and Le claimed that the traps and ropes the Crown was seeking through forfeiture belonged to her.

He also claimed he was "confused" about the regulations because of his father's death from cancer in 2017.

But the judge noted that the regulations in question had been in place for at least a year before Le's father died.

"Le has been engaged in the fishing industry for a significant period of time," she wrote.

"Blaming it on confusion not knowing the dates is simply not acceptable nor quite frankly, believable."

The Crown asked for a fine of $35,000, but Arthur-Leung opted for $20,000 instead. She issued a forfeiture order for the traps and ropes because the violations could not have been committed without them.

She said it was important to send a message.

"The protection of the environment is a key value held across Canada and here on the Pacific Coast there are virtually daily media postings about the volatility of fishing stock on the Pacific Coast, whether it is a type of fish and or crab," the judge wrote.

"Le and others who may entertain the thought to commit similar offences must know that these actions are not acceptable to the values held by Canadians who respect the law."

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