When the commercial vessel Ocean Provider was found fishing albacore tuna 42 nautical miles offshore of Barkley Sound without a valid license on a routine fisheries inspection, they were escorted to port, where 2,250 tuna amounting to 31,956 pounds were processed then seized.
After the owners pleaded guilty, they were sentenced the following summer in Port Alberni Provincial Court and fined $6,000. But when seizures were upheld to the Crown, it left the question: What happened to the seized tuna?
In an interview, Sean Ward, chief of DFO’s Enforcement Operations, told Ha-Shilth-Sa that when an investigation is opened it is up to the initiating officer to decide how the fish will be disposed of based on the various options under the Fisheries Act.
“Because of the quantity and the location, they got three bids, and sold it,” said Ward. “The money goes to the Receiver General [of Canada] and is held pending the outcome of the court case.”
In this case, the tuna fished by Ocean Provider between July 22 to Aug. 15, 2022, amounted to $127,824.
Ward explained that the officer could also distribute the fish among local communities. But with each situation there are a number of factors to consider, such as the type of fishery and license issued, willingness of the community to accept the product, among others.
“Last thing you want is a resource to be wasted by expiring,” said Ward.
According to the Sept. 13 press release, some concerns involve the impact on conservation efforts, recreational and commercial harvesters as well as the local economy.
“If someone decides that they're just going to fish without a license, that means that they're taking that resource away from another area or conservation at a higher level,” said Ward, adding that it also takes away from other commercial, recreational, and Indigenous-based fisheries.
Similarly, Cliff Atleo, said that following fishing regulations is a “no brainer”.
“If you don’t, you impact all kinds of things including conservation and others who follow the regulations,” said Atleo, who holds the position of chair of the Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries, and was a negotiator in the Ahousaht Case. “I'm glad that they caught these guys, just simply because we are in that situation where licenses are important.”