Nfld. & Labrador

Father who condemned DFO over smelt sting has previous poaching conviction

A man who condemned fisheries officers for an undercover sting that targeted his 12-year-old son had a previous encounter with the department.

Donnie Harris of Gander Bay South previously told CBC News 'I've never poached in my life'

Donnie Harris of Gander Bay South told CBC News last week "I've never poached in my life." But according to court records, Harris was convicted more than a decade ago of poaching salmon. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Donnie Harris strongly condemned federal fisheries officers last week for staging an undercover sting at his Gander Bay South home, complaining loudly in the media that officers overreacted and were actually targeting his 12-year-old son.

But it turns out that Harris has a checkered past when it comes to fisheries conservation and his relationship with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

According to court records, Harris was convicted a decade ago for poaching salmon, despite telling CBC News on Jan. 23, "I've never poached in my life."

He was also convicted on a charge of obstructing a fisheries official.

Both charges were related to an incident in July 2005.

He was convicted and fined $200 for failing to attach a valid tag to a salmon, and another $150 for obstruction.

'Bob Smith' wants a meal of smelt

CBC News has tried repeatedly to reach Harris for comment about his record, but has been unsuccessful.

Harris made headlines for days after being the subject of an undercover sting by fisheries officers that set off a frenzy on social media.

A DFO spokesman said an investigation was launched following public complaints about "sales of large-scale quantities of smelt" in the Gander Bay area.

An undercover officer purchased 10 dozen smelt — small fish also known as whitefish — from Harris for $20 on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

The deal was arranged after Harris said his son placed an advertisement for smelt on an online classified site, using his father's account.

But there's no reference to Harris's son in the ad, and the seller is identified as "Donnie."

Harris said a man named "Bob Smith" responded to the ad and asked for 10 bags of the small fish, which are usually less than 20 centimetres in length and can travel between freshwater and the ocean, similar to salmon.

Harris said his son spent an entire day on the ice in order to fill the order.

The next day, the buyer arrived and Harris said he gave him the fish and accepted the money because his son was in school.

A few minutes after the purchase, other officers showed up and informed Harris that it was illegal to sell fish without the proper licences and that he would likely face charges.

Harris admitted he "lost it" with the officers, and said he was not aware it was illegal to sell smelt.

'Not a poaching family'

Harris also went to the media with his story, accusing DFO of targeting his young son, who also spoke with CBC News.

"We're not a poaching family," Harris said. "If I'd known that was illegal, my son wouldn't have been doing that."

But DFO said in a statement last week that "at no time was a minor under investigation in this case."

CBC News was contacted by several people in the Gander Bay region, suggesting that Harris's background be investigated.

As for DFO, a spokesperson said Friday that the investigation is ongoing, and no charges have been laid.

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.