By Bruce Owen
Convicted poachers would see additional penalties -- paying restitution for the fish or animals they killed illegally -- under new legislation to be tabled today by Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh.
Mackintosh said the bill, the Fish and Wildlife Restitution Act, will be the first in Canada and is based on laws already in place in many U.S. states such as New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio, Montana and Wyoming.
"This is a strong new, serious deterrent," he said, adding the money will be directed into a trust fund for fish and wildlife enhancement programs.
"Poachers must pay the real price and can't be robbing Manitoba of its natural bounty."
Existing provincial penalties deal with fines and the possibility of jail time, but not restitution.
"A fine is a penalty for breaking the law, but there is a need for compensation for the loss, and it's a real loss," Mackintosh said. "It goes to some fundamental needs that have both ethical and commercial values."
Last year, a 72-year-old Winnipeg man was fined $2,600 for selling 10-pound packs of frozen pickerel filets for $55 from his Jefferson Avenue business. On the day of his arrest, officials found 120 pounds of pickerel at his business.
Species like walleye would be assigned specific restitution amounts subject to further consultation with fish and wildlife groups. For example, walleye would be $45, white-tailed deer $500 and increasing to $4,000 depending on the trophy value. Lake sturgeon would be $1,200.
For poaching in an area closed to hunting, such as for moose, restitution amounts would be doubled.
"As soon as there is a conviction, restitution is mandatory," Mackintosh said, adding it's expected the proposed legislation will become law in early 2015.
Jim Duncan, director of the Wildlife Branch, said based on convictions for poaching white-tailed deer in the past two years, restitution to the province would be up to $11,000 for that period. It would be up to $5,000 for moose.
Mackintosh said poaching undermines commercial operations like hunting and fishing lodges, which bring tourist dollars to the province, and robs law-abiding hunters and anglers of a successful day out in the bush or boat.
Poaching also lessens the chances of families spotting wildlife in the wilderness.
"Even seeing wildlife has an importance," he said.
The changes will not impact on treaty rights of aboriginal and Métis hunters.
Paul Turenne, executive director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, said restitution is welcomed by the industry as it will put more money into protecting fish and wildlife.
"Our members have zero tolerance for poachers," he said.