The owner of a lobster pound in Nova Scotia convicted of illegally selling lobster harvested by First Nations should be fined $75,000 and banned from the industry for two years, according to a federal Crown prosecutor.
That was the recommendation Thursday at the sentencing hearing for Shen Ren Zheng in Digby provincial court.
Zheng and his company, Guang Da International, were found guilty in August of illegally selling lobster harvested under communal food, social and ceremonial licences by members of Sipekne'katik First Nation.
By regulation, those catches cannot be sold. The maximum fine for a first offence is $100,000.
Federal Crown prosecutor Mark Stares told provincial court Judge Tim Landry the case was a deliberate act of greed that was clearly against the law.
"This was an ongoing commercial scheme that was, in reality, a ruse to cover up black market dealings," Stares told Landry.
The fine and industry ban, he said, is needed to deter others and conserve lobster stocks.
In an October 2017 sting operation, federal fisheries officers pulled Sipekne'katik traps fished by Robert Syliboy from St. Marys Bay, placed microchips on 73 lobsters, returned the traps and then traced the tagged lobster to the nearby Guang Da pound in Belliveaus Cove.
Three days later, officers followed a shipment from the plant containing 15 of those lobsters to the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. The shipment was stopped and seized before being loaded onto a flight for China.
The shipment was valued at $50,000 and carried the necessary paperwork from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
"The international export of black market fish can jeopardize Canadians ability to legally do so," Stares said.
Speaking through a Mandarin translator, Zheng repeated a claim Thursday rejected by the judge at his trial. He said this was an accident where his workers inexplicably mixed commercial lobster at his pound with lobster harvested by First Nations.
"During the time I did business over here I did not break any rules," Zheng said over the phone from Ontario, where he is living.
He said it was wrong to mix lobster harvested commercially with those under a communal licence by First Nations.
He claimed the 15 lobsters bearing microchips in the shipment of 5,000 pounds seized at the airport were the only lobster caught by First Nations that were attributable to him.
The Crown disagreed, saying pound holding books and invoices seized by DFO indicated Sipekne'katik lobster was supplying a commercial operation.
There was no evidence during the trial that money changed hands, but pound security video showed Sipekne'katik lobster being commercially graded and sorted at the plant.
Zheng says he has declared personal bankruptcy and a bank is auctioning off the company after charges were laid in the case
He told the court he has been on federal employment assistance since the pandemic.
"If it is possible I would like to resume work in the fishing industry," he said. "I would like to ask Your Honour's help to sustain myself and to continue living in Canada."
Landry asked for proof of his financial situation and will hand down a sentence next month.
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