Sunshine Coast homeowner fined for dredging creek

A Sunshine Coast homeowner has been fined $70,000 for illegally dredging a creek and destroying fish habitat in Roberts Creek.

George I. Winkler pleaded guilty to two counts of Fisheries Act offences, activities other than fishing that result in death to fish and harmful alteration or disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

On two separate occasions, Winkler hired workers to dredge sections of Stephens Creek, which runs through a property he and his family own, causing fish death and habitat loss, said Crown counsel at the June 11 sentencing.

At a sentencing on June 11 at Sechelt Provincial Court, Honourable Judge Steven Merrick imposed a fine of $35,000 for each of the two counts.


The crown stated that in May 2020, after Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) received a report of a backhoe in Stephens Creek, a fisheries officer visited the property. They gave Winkler a verbal warning for harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat and told Winkler that he could not use machinery in the creek. Winkler was also told that a local government, such as the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), does not have the final authority on matters such as these.

Winkler explained that he was trying to create a berm to protect his cottage from flooding.

A previous property owner redirected the portion of Stephens Creek that runs through this property and has a 90-degree turn on Winkler’s property, which is prone to seasonal flooding, explained the Crown.


On Nov. 22, 2021, shortly after the atmospheric river storm, DFO received a complaint that there was an excavator in Stephens Creek, removing material and placing it higher along the bank.

The Crown read from their written report of the encounter, where the person who filed the report asked Winkler about the machinery in the creek. Winkler told them that he had obtained permission from the SCRD and that there was no salmon in the creek at the time.

The person later observed and recorded a salmon struggling to swim up the quite silty creek farther down from the property, which was shown to the courtroom.

The report triggered a DFO biological survey of the area and found that at least 80 chum salmon eggs had been destroyed from the dredging of the creek.

It was also found that the work had altered, disrupted or destroyed parts of the fish habitat.


Considering Winkler’s high level of culpability, the fact that he was warned against the activity, the harm and destruction that was caused and that deterrence is the primary sentencing consideration, the Crown submitted that $35,000 on each count was appropriate.

Merrick acknowledged that Winkler was doing this work to try to mitigate flood damage from the recent atmospheric river. He also noted that Winkler chose to carry on this work after being warned by a DFO officer and knew what he was doing was illegal.

Judge Merrick imposed a fine of $35,000 for each of the two Fisheries Act offences ($70,000 total), to be paid to the Federal Environmental Damages Fund over the next two years.

Judge Merrick noted that similar offenders in the future would see steeper fines, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Jordan Copp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Coast Reporter