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Man nets $18K fine for prawn fishing in Howe Sound glass sponge reef area

Flouting rules for recreational fishing can result in environmental damage, judge says

A recreational prawn fisherman has been fined $18,000 after pleading guilty to three fisheries charges, including fishing at the entrance to Howe Sound in an area banned to bottom fishing to protect rare glass sponge reefs.

Jian Lun Aaron Zhang, 42, of Burnaby, was handed the fine Monday, Nov. 28, in North Vancouver provincial court.

Zhang was nabbed by fisheries officers on July 20, 2020, prawn fishing on his boat in Queen Charlotte Channel, an area between West Vancouver and Bowen Island that is closed to bottom fishing to protect the ancient sponge reefs that exist in pockets throughout Howe Sound and along the B.C. coast.

When fisheries officers showed up, their GPS system showed Zhang’s boat was within the glass sponge reef closure area and Zhang was pulling up a prawn trap, said Judge Joanne Challenger.

Zhang directed fisheries officers to other traps that were also in the same closed area.

In total, Zhang had eight prawn traps – double the allowable number. Fisheries officers seized a catch of 474 shrimp and 49 prawns, along with perch, flounder, rock fish and Dungeness crab.

Challenger noted the number of traps being used on the boat was an aggravating factor in the case, as was the “significant amount of bycatch.”

On the day he was caught by fisheries officers. Zhang was on a 26-foot sport fishing boat that he’d bought a share of with several friends four years prior. Zhang paid $4,000 towards the boat, his lawyers said. That boat was sold in March 2022 for $35,000.

Zhang’s lawyer suggested Zhang – who immigrated to Canada in 2006 – didn’t fully understand the fishing closure or the importance of obeying the rules because of his limited understanding of English. Zhang set his traps outside the area, but they drifted in, he added.

The lawyer asked for a lighter fine.

But Challenger rejected that, saying “Mr. Zhang is fully culpable for the offence committed.

“Mr. Zhang had a duty to inform himself about the closed area,” she said.

“We are stewards of our environment. We have an obligation to others in society and to future generations to be diligent in managing the resources that we have inherited. Social interests override an individual entitlement and accountable stewardship is demanded and expected not merely hoped for,” she said.

Challenger said given the large number of recreational fishers, those who don’t obey the rules can have a significant impact on fisheries resources.

“We all have to understand that there really are just a limited number of fish in the sea,” she said.

She handed Zhang a $12,000 fine for fishing in a closed area plus a $3,000 fine for fishing with more than four traps and a $3,000 fine for fishing with a trap that wasn’t properly identified.

The judge also ordered all the fishing gear and illegally caught prawns, shrimp and crab forfeited to the Crown.

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Correction, Nov. 30, 2022: This article has been amended to correct an error in the photo caption. Halkett Point is on Gambier Island, not Bowen Island as was stated in an earlier version of this article.