A five-day joint venture has resulted in 312 illegal commercial crab traps being seized in Boundary Bay by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Crabs captured during the Feb. 7-11 operation — one of many that take place throughout the year — have been released back into the water, according to a news release. DFO is working to identify the perpetrators and is asking for the public's help to keep a watch for suspicious activity.
Art Demsky, a DFO detachment commander, says the majority of the crabs they see harvested go to China. Illegally caught crab can be laundered into the legitimate retail market, he says, noting only fish caught under a commercial license may be purchased or sold.
"We rely on the public to be our eyes and ears. If someone sees something or hears something that they suspect to be illegal fishing activity we want them to report to us,” he tells Glacier Media.
Local residents can report suspicious activity to 1-800-465-4336. People living around Boundary Bay can listen for winch or motor sounds in the middle of the night. They can also call that number if they spot vessels out on the water at odd times.
"This type of problem is not just in one area, it’s all over,” Demsky says. “The entire B.C. coast, there is a lot of illegal fishing going on. It highlights the kind of problems that we have and the impact it could have on the industry and the impact it could have on First Nations and their food fisheries and even the impact on sport fisheries."
Many of the perpetrators hide under the cover of darkness so they don’t get caught, he adds.
“It’s something we have to get a handle on and have to control.”
The removal of 312 illegal commercial crab traps has put these illegal fishers out of a lot of money, notes Demsky. Breaking the law could result in fines up of to $500,000, he says.
The crab sweep used the CCG Hovercraft Moytel, which could handle the weight of the traps.
"Some strings are five and 25 strings in a row. It is a substantial amount of weight,” says field supervisor Bev Funk.
She agrees with Demsky that the public needs to be their eyes and ears.
"We want to make sure that we are taking ownership of our resources and doing what we can to protect them,” she says.
Funk says there is still more gear that needs to be removed, but it is gratifying to remove the traps every year.