By Brodie Thomas
A La Scie-based fisherman was convicted of three fisheries-related offences in Grand Bank Provincial Court last week.
Keith Bath was handed three fines totaling $15,000, must forfeit nearly $22,000 worth of halibut, and will face increased scrutiny by fisheries monitors in the upcoming season.
The charges of possessing Atlantic halibut during closed time, failing to accurately complete a fishing log, and failing to have all catch weighed and verified by a dockside observer came after a stakeout by DFO officers from Marystown.
Daryl Walsh was detachment supervisor for Marystown when the stakeout took place in August 2013. He said officers decided to investigate because of data they had received from Bath’s vessel monitoring system. The satellite-linked device provides hourly reports on a ship’s location to DFO.
Walsh said the ship was returning to port in St. Lawrence late in the evening after almost 15 days at sea. He said Bath is one of about 10 fishermen who normally fish out of other areas but have licences to fish in 3Ps, off the island’s south shore.
The vessel did not hail in or contact a dockside monitor to meet the crew at port. DFO officers used an unmarked vehicle and night-vision goggles to watch the vessel come in.
When officers observed crew placing tubs of fish into a pickup truck, they said they moved in and found over 4,000 pounds of halibut valued at $21,928.
Both directed and bycatch seasons for halibut had closed when the fish was landed, according to Walsh.
“Based on the amount of fish – this isn’t something you would bring ashore for your own use,” he said.
He added that any reputable plant would require dockside monitoring paperwork before purchasing a catch, so it is unclear where the fish was bound for.
He said poaching is not necessarily common along the south coast, but officers are always vigilant for suspicious activity.
Walsh said DFO attempted to sell the seized fish to a buyer with the proceeds going to the federal government, but the following day the fish was deemed spoiled so no funds were recovered.
“We want to make sure no fish is wasted if we can help it,” said Walsh.
Instead DFO had to pay a contractor $500 to dispose of the fish. The judge ordered Bath to pick up that cost in addition to his $15,000 in fines.
For the next year, Bath will have to report his vessel’s location every 15 minutes through vessel monitoring systems, instead of the usual hourly report. DFO will also require bath to bring an observer along on two 3Ps trips – at his expense – at some time in the next year.
Walsh said the public is encouraged to report any suspicious activity they see on the water to DFO or Crime Stoppers.