Trial begins in Halifax for fisherman, buyer, accused of illegal halibut landings

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The trial of a fisherman, a buyer, and two related companies is underway in Halifax provincial court. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The trial of a fisherman, a buyer, and two related companies is underway in Halifax provincial court. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

A trial is underway in Halifax for a Sambro fisherman, a fish buyer and two related companies accused of illegal halibut landings.

The case is centred on seven trips made by the fishing vessel Ivy Lew between May 2019 and June 2020.

Rob Short/CBC
Rob Short/CBC

Captain Casey Henneberry is accused of failing to follow licence conditions in several instances, including on three trips when halibut catches were unloaded without a dockside monitor present.

Illegal offloads alleged

"Most of the charges relate to failing to comply with a condition of the licence,' federal Crown prosecutor Lee-Ann Conrod told provincial court judge Elizabeth Buckle.

"The evidence will show that of the seven trips, three of those involved illegal offloads; failing to have all the weight and species of all groundfish verified by a dockside observer according to the license. There was surveillance of three trips either before or after the lawful unload."

Rob Short/CBC
Rob Short/CBC

Alleged buyer charged

Buyer Samir Zakhour is accused of being at the wharf to buy halibut during the last "illegal offload" in June 2020 and "was a party to the events of offloading without a monitor," Conrod said.

He is also charged with misleading a fishery officer the night of his arrest.

ALS Fisheries, which owns the boat, and Law Fisheries are also charged in the case.

DFO had its eye on Ivy Lew

Fisheries and Oceans Canada began investigating the fishing vessel Ivy Lew in January 2019.

It ended in June 2020 when officers seized the boat, a vehicle, cash and halibut.

Dozens of charges were laid last December.

The halibut licence required Henneberry to keep a logbook estimating the amount of fish caught during the trip and to "hail in '' the amount to a dockside observation company — in this case Barrington Catch Monitoring — three hours prior to arrival in port .

The company then weighed the dressed fish — gutted with the heads removed — and reported the results.

DFO takes the dressed weight and multiplies by a factor of 1.26 to estimate the weight of the "round" or undressed halibut.

Fisheries officer Jessica Belbin said all the hail-ins from Henneberry were inaccurate.

Rob Short/CBC
Rob Short/CBC

She said he overestimated the "round" weight of the catch on five trips and underestimated what was on board on two trips.

Henneberry's lawyer Stan MacDonald argued "it would make no sense" for a fisherman to overestimate the catch if the intent was to mislead.

"Every single pound of groundfish with dockside is accounted for," he said. "To hail in more than you actually have on board if in fact you are planning to offload that away from the monitoring would be giving it away, wouldn't it?"

MacDonald identified three trips in which illegal offloads allegedly took place. All occurred in 2020 and in two of the three, Henneberry underestimated what was on board — in one trip by 43 per cent.

Holds not inspected due to COVID protocol

The trial also heard that a COVID protocol instituted in early 2020 by DFO prevented dockside monitors from going on board the Ivy Lew to check the hold when it arrvied in Sambro.

"This was a measure that was put in place to limit the potential interactions between monitors and fishers," said Belbin.

"In this particular case during this time period dockside monitors were told they didn't actually have to check the fish hold. The importance of checking the fish hold was still there but they were given the option to not board because of COVID safety."

It meant the Ivy Lew hold was not inspected by dockside monitors during three trips in 2020, although Barrington Catch did weigh and count the halibut it observed.

DFO has since rescinded the protocol.

"Dockside monitors are currently required to board vessels and check fish holds, unless the monitor believes checking inside the hold would be unsafe due to the pandemic or other hazards," spokesperson Lauren Sankey said in a response to CBC News.

Trial will proceed over the next nine months

There were nine counts related to alleged infractions by multiple parties. The Crown dropped two of those, involving all the accused, on Monday.

It was done in order to ensure the case would meet the so-called "Jordan" rule from the Supreme Court of Canada that requires most provincial court trials to take place within 18 months of charges being laid.

DFO laid charges in this case in December 2021.

The trial continues this week, with dates scheduled later this month and in January 2023.

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