More enforcement coming to Sunshine Coast as region deals with complaints of illegal shellfish harvesting
'We have to put a stop to it,' says resident. 'There won't be anything left'
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is sending another enforcement officer to its Sunshine Coast base after members of the public flooded the department with complaints about illegal shellfish harvesting in the area.
It's a problem the region sees every summer, but officials and locals alike say this year has been particularly bad.
Mary Jackson, who's lived in Halfmoon Bay for nearly 30 years, said "the whole coast is outraged."
"We have to put a stop to it," Jackson said. "There won't be anything left."
The DFO has one field office responsible for overseeing the Sunshine Coast, located in Powell River. There are currently two officers stationed there, but the department is now assigning a third.
lllegal harvesting happens when licensed fishermen either take too much shellfish, harvest in closed areas or use illegal gear. Others are simply unlicensed fisherman picking through the beach. DFO says harvesters are taking oysters and clams.
"Essentially, the Sunshine Coast gets hit with an influx of tourists to the area and a lot of those tourists take it upon themselves to harvest while they're here as part of their vacation," said Ben Rahier, acting field supervisor for the DFO's Powell River field office.
"There could be 10, 20, 30, 40 folks in a group," he said.
Jackson, 54, said she's heard of harvesters bringing five-gallon buckets to fill with shellfish, or sneaking to the beach with head lamps at night.
This year, locals created a Facebook group to record and report suspected violations they see in their area. It had more than 800 new members in its first few days.
Rahier said he supports locals keeping an eye out for illegal fishing, but encourages people to report what they see directly to the fisheries department.
He said the public shouldn't confront harvesters for any reason.
"The last thing I want to see is someone trying to do the right thing and putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation or opening themselves up to liability, confronting these individuals when they don't have the authority to do so," Rahier said.
In March, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones — MP for the Sunshine Coast — wrote a letter to the federal minister of fisheries and oceans saying illegal harvesting was going "undetected" due to limited resources.
Rahier said a third officer is being being sent in Powell River on a permanent basis in coming weeks.
"A big reason for that is because of the quantity of complaints we're receiving from the public," he said.
Rahier also said the Powell River office is supported by teams in Steveston and the Lower Mainland, issuing $14,000 worth of fines in a weekend "blitz" late last month.
Anyone who thinks they can see someone fishing illegally is asked to phone Fisheries and Oceans Canada's toll-free line at 1-800-465-4336.
Details on information to include in a report can be found here.