P.E.I. snow crab fishers fined for underreporting catch

·2 min read
James Gavin of Sea Cow Pond entered a guilty plea in Georgetown provincial court Thursday. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
James Gavin of Sea Cow Pond entered a guilty plea in Georgetown provincial court Thursday. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Georgetown court dealt with several cases Thursday involving the underreporting of catches in P.E.I.'s snow crab fishery.

Four fishermen who pleaded guilty to violating section 43.4(1) of the federal Fisheries Act were fined: Jason Ahearn, James Gavin, Earl MacRae and Jeffery MacLeod. Charges were dropped against Casey Gavin.

Others among the 13 people originally charged were fined earlier.

In most cases, the fines amounted to $1,500 per offence.

Judge Nancy Orr expressed frustration at the low fines set out in the sentencing guidelines for this type of charge, saying the fines aren't much of a disincentive if someone ends up being able to sell 20,000 pounds of snow crab that didn't get reported as counting toward their quota. She made the remarks in relation to the sentencing of James Gavin. Court heard Gavin had an extensive record, with convictions dating back to 1995. Gavin was fined $2,500.

Operation Gannet

The cases in Georgetown court Thursday followed a Department of Fisheries and Oceans investigation in Souris dating back to 2019 and 2020. It was called Operation Gannet.

Both fishers and dockside monitors ended up being charged.

Court was told that fisheries officers watched as snow crab catches were landed and the monitors recorded the amounts.

Circumstances were similar in all their cases: estimates by fishers, and records from monitors, showed catches were much lower than the landings observed by fishery officers — in some cases, by 20,000 pounds.

A trial also began Thursday for fisherman Leo Dorgan, who has pleaded not guilty to failing to report his catches accurately. His is the final case connected to Operation Gannet.

One dockside monitor who earlier pleaded guilty to 24 counts was involved in some of Dorgan's landings, court heard.

The two-day trial is expected to wrap up Friday.

'A conservation matter'

Carter Hutt, chair of the P.E.I. Snow Crab Association, declined CBC's request for an interview on the charges.

"It's a conservation matter," Orr said during a May court hearing connected to Operation Gannet.

"Everybody is aware snow crab is a lucrative fishery in this jurisdiction … Captains get the big bucks, they also get the big responsibility."

Defence lawyer Clifford Hood argued at the same hearing that his clients failed to fill out the proper paperwork, but did not exceed their overall share of snow crab quota.

Hood said it's not unusual for crab crews to shift quota from boat to boat.

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