Nova Scotia

Lobster pound owner found guilty of illegally selling lobster

The Chinese owner of a lobster pound in Nova Scotia has been found guilty of illegally selling lobster caught by Indigenous fishermen who were not allowed to sell their catch under the licences they held.

Sheng Ren Zheng and his company were convicted Wednesday in Digby provincial court

Sheng Ren Zheng enters the Digby courthouse on Jan. 5, 2020. He and his defunct lobster pound, Guang Da International, were found guilty of illegally selling lobster caught under communal Indigenous fishing licences. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The Chinese owner of a lobster pound in Nova Scotia has been found guilty of illegally selling lobster caught by Indigenous fishermen who were not allowed to sell their catch under the licences they held.

Sheng Ren Zheng and his company, Guang Da International, were convicted Wednesday in Digby provincial court by Judge Tim Landry.

The illegal sale of lobster caught outside of the commercial season by Indigenous fishermen in St. Marys Bay each summer has been an ongoing source of tension in the lucrative Nova Scotia fishery.

The case against Zheng and his now defunct company in Belliveaus Cove centred on lobster caught in October 2017 under food, social and ceremonial licences by fishermen from the Sipekne'katik band outside Halifax. By regulation, those catches cannot be sold.

In a sting operation called Operation Magnet, federal fishery officers pulled Sipekne'katik traps from St. Marys Bay, placed microchips on 73 lobsters inside, returned the traps and then traced the tagged lobster to the nearby Guang Da International pound.

Microchipped lobsters seized

Three days later, officers followed a shipment from the plant containing 15 of the microchipped lobsters to a freight facility at the Halifax airport, where it was stopped before being loaded onto a flight for China.

The 2,268-kilogram shipment was seized and Zheng and the company were charged with illegally selling lobster.

At his trial, Zheng insisted it was a mix-up, that staff at his now-defunct pound mistakenly included lobster in a shipment for China that he was supposed to be holding for the band.

There was no evidence that money changed hands, but Landry said "the only rational conclusion" was that the enterprise was a commercial operation.

Landry noted the band's lobster were graded and sorted at the plant and that substantial effort was taken to get it to the airport.

He also noted price and quantity were contained in paperwork seized at the plant.

Guang Da International in Belliveaus Cove, N.S., was at the centre of a Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigation into illegal lobster sales. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC)

Landry said the lobster was purchased so that it could be resold.

Zheng was not in court today. He appeared via a telephone link and heard the judge's verdict through a Mandarin translator.

The maximum fine is $100,000 and sentencing will take place Nov. 1.

Planned protest

The issue of Indigenous fishermen selling their catch under food, social and ceremonial licences remains an ongoing source of summertime tension in southwest Nova Scotia.

Non-native fishermen insist the sale of lobster harvested through large scale, unregulated fishing by First Nations continues in St. Marys Bay while the season is closed for commercial fishermen.

On Thursday, fishermen will protest outside the Bridgewater constituency office of federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan over what they say is inaction by the federal government.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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