Fate of baby eels worth $90K seized in Halifax unknown
Eels were confiscated at the airport in May, but it's not clear if they've been destroyed
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is refusing to say whether a haul of live baby eels — worth an estimated $90,000 — seized May 30 at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport was destroyed.
DFO initially said it seized 80 kilograms of baby eels, but spokesperson Lauren Sankey later corrected that figure to 18 kilograms, saying in a June 10 email the department had "mistakenly included the weight of the water in the containers as part of the total amount of seized elver."
Baby eels or elvers are the most valuable fish species by weight in Canada and were worth over $5,000 per kilo at recent market prices. They are flown to Asia where they are raised to adulthood for food. They are harvested each spring from rivers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. There is also a fishery in Maine.
Sources told CBC News the fish were destroyed, but the department refused to provide more information despite appearing to initially confirm that.
"DFO makes every effort to return fish to their waters after they are seized, but in cases where it is not possible to determine where the fish originate from, they must be destroyed," spokesperson Stephen Bornais said in a statement. "This reduces the potential for parasites, diseases, pathogens, or invasive species to be spread among watersheds."
Now officials say it's under investigation.
DFO won't say what happened
"As the matter is part of an ongoing investigation, we can't provide any further details."
CBC asked why the seizure was not sold, but the department did not respond.
Brian Giroux, a commercial harvester with the Shelburne Elver Group, said the destruction of such a valuable seizure would be "a very sad situation and not in keeping with the mandate of conservation."
"I am certain that an active buyer (or someone like me who could have shipped for them) was available to purchase/ship those eels, but DFO never reached out," Giroux said in a statement to CBC News. "In almost every other fishery I know of, seizures are sold and proceeds go to the Receiver General for Canada. So there's $440,000 or so lost to the Crown that could have covered science, enforcement or anything else."
The Maritime elver fishery has been in turmoil for several years.
It has become a flash point for Mi'kmaw bands exercising treaty rights to fish for a moderate livelihood.
That's led to riverside confrontations between Indigenous harvesters, commercial fishermen and enforcement officers.
In 2020, DFO shutdown the entire Maritime elver fishery after an influx of Mi'kmaw harvesters in Nova Scotia overwhelmed its ability to manage the fishery.
This year Canada cut 14 per cent of the commercial elver quota and gave it to Mi'kmaw bands to satisfy their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood.
Earlier this spring in New Brunswick, four Indigenous groups were ordered by a judge to stop "threatening, coercing, harassing or intimidating" commercial harvesters.
The judge also told the bands to stay off rivers assigned by DFO to commercial harvester Mary Holland.
The injunction is temporary until the judge decides on a lawsuit brought by Holland against the Indigenous harvesters.