Nova Scotia

Sambro fisherman charged for catching too many halibut

A Sambro fisherman has been charged by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for bringing in too many halibut after a trip to sea last month.

Blackburn blames difficulty of accurately weighing fish in rough seas

Sambro fisherman Bill Blackburn is facing an overfishing charge he says is unjustified. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A Sambro, N.S., fisherman has been charged by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for bringing in too many halibut after a trip to sea last month.

Bill Blackburn has been going to sea to catch fish for the 35 years. He plans to plead not guilty when he goes court next month.

"I sold 1,548 pounds to Ocean View Fisheries, my hail in was 1,500 pounds. I'm getting charged for over-mishailing," he said.

Blackburn says there's no way to accurately weigh his catch at sea compared to how it is weighed in calmer waters. He says the choppy waves and the swaying of the boat can change the weight of the fish.

Blackburn demonstrated for CBC News Thursday by weighing a halibut in calm water at the Sambro wharf, where it weighed just under 21 pounds.

When Blackburn weighed the same fish again in choppier water at the head of Sambro wharf, its weight fluctuated between 16, 27 and 30 pounds.

"What do I do, take the middle number? It was 21 pounds at the wharf," he said.

Livelihood on the line

Blackburn says the conditions are far rougher where he fishes, 170 kilometres out to sea, which further complicates properly weighing his fish.

He plans to explain the weight discrepancy to the judge when he's in court.

Blackburn says that fishing is his livelihood and there's a lot at stake if the judge finds him guilty. He says his boat and his gear are worth about $250,000.

If he's guilty, Blackburn says he could face a steep fine and his fishing licence would be put in jeopardy.

His charges come after the recent case of John Levy, the Lunenburg County fisherman who was fined $70,000. He was convicted of two charges, including failing to determine an accurate catch weight at dockside.

Blackburn is saddened by the charge laid against him. He's stopped going fishing and doesn't know when he will go out to sea again.

"Every time it seems like when we come in, I'm scared to death to come in," he said.

"That's pretty bad when I'm scared to death to come home because I think they're going to find some kind of infraction wrong with me — what did I do wrong today?"

Blackburn is due in court May 20.  

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