Undercover probe into Alberta fish-trafficking leads to 80 charges against 33 people

A two-year undercover investigation into the illegal trafficking of 12,000 pounds of whitefish and walleye in northern and central Alberta has led to 80 charges against 33 people.

Fish were allegedly trafficked after being illegally killed in Lesser Slave Lake and nearby Winagami Lake "under the guise of Métis and treaty domestic fishing rights," Fish and Wildlife Enforcement said in a news release Tuesday.

"The investigation revealed a network of illegal killers and buyers of fish," the news release said.

Alberta has not had a commercial fishery since 2014. Métis and treaty harvesting rights allow for personal subsistence use only.

The probe began in November 2017 after officers received information alleging that unlawful trafficking of fish was occurring in the High Prairie and Faust areas.

It wrapped up Thursday after a final undercover buy led to the seizure of a 2002 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 truck, five fish tubs, four gill nets and related equipment.

Thirty-three people from High Prairie, Faust, Slave Lake, Morinville, Edmonton, Vegreville, Bashaw, Castor and Halkirk have been charged with 80 counts under the General Fisheries (Alberta) Regulations. Initial court appearances are scheduled for dates in February.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement
Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement

Charges include the unlawful sale, purchase and possession of fish, including lake whitefish and walleye.

Fish and Wildlife Enforcement said any unregulated trade in fish and wildlife helps fuel black market demand, which could then lead to increased poaching and pressure on fish and wildlife populations.

The penalty for trafficking fish is a maximum $100,000 fine and one year in jail.

All fish seized during the investigation will be distributed to people in need throughout Alberta, the news release said.

Lesser Slave Lake is about 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.