File photo of Lower Mainland salmon courtesy Fernando Lessa

Illegal salmon selling “rampant and open” in Langley, fisheries department says

Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson calls it “an urgent health and conservation concern”

Illegal salmon sales in Langley have reached a point where they pose a “considerable risk to salmon stocks” said Leri Davies, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region.

“Lower Mainland fishery officers, particularly in Langley area, have been receiving a significant volume of public complaints around rampant and open illegal sales of fresh salmon,” Davies said in a written release issued as the long weekend was getting underway.

“These sales not only represent a significant risk to human health, they also pose a considerable risk to salmon stocks that are vulnerable.”

Davies called the problem “an urgent health and conservation concern.”

The spokesperson said there will be stepped-up patrols by Fisheries officers in response to the complaints.

Fines under federal and provincial regulations allow penalties as high as $100,000 for purchasing, selling, trading or bartering seafood caught in a fishery where sales are not authorized.

Davies said anyone who buys seafood is responsible for making sure that it was lawfully caught under a licence authorizing sale.

“If in doubt, ask what fishery the seafood has come from and request to see the commercial licence or Aboriginal Fishery Landing Slip,” Davies said.

In 2011, a report by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff to the Cohen Commission into the decline of Fraser sockeye said that Aboriginal fisheries on the lower Fraser River were “out of control” and vast amounts of salmon supposed to go strictly for food, social and ceremonial purposes were instead being sold on the black market.

DFO investigators estimated 97 per cent of lower Fraser sockeye harvested under aboriginal food fisheries were sold, according to one document summarizing internal department concerns after an April 2010 meeting.

A 2006 operational intelligence assessment by DFO’s Special Investigations Unit warned illegal sales of First Nations-caught fish is widespread across B.C. via back door dealing to restaurants and fish shops as well as door-to-door sales.

“The FSC (food, social and ceremonial) First Nations fishery on the Lower Fraser River is largely out of control and should be considered in all contexts, a commercial fishery,” the assessment said, warning DFO is “unable to effectively control the illegal sales.”

Even when poachers are caught many never pay their fines.

There was more than $1 million in outstanding fines for illegal fishing in the Pacific region, according to an update tabled at the Cohen inquiry.

A 2005 probe by fishery officers that audited 110 Lower Mainland fish plants found 345,000 sockeye in storage.

That was the end of a season where low sockeye returns meant no commercial fishery was allowed, nor was any aboriginal economic opportunity fishing (a limited for-profit commercial fishery for First Nations.)

But the investigation ran out of funding, DFO officers never got proof any of the frozen salmon were sold and no prosecutions resulted.

At the time of the Cohen Commision, Sto:lo fisher advisor Ernie Crey, dismissed the allegations, saying aboriginal people don’t use traditional preservation methods as much and have increasingly turned to industrial freezers.

“It’s not prohibited,” Crey said. “We can do that if we choose, along with all other Canadians.”

He said DFO wrongly assumed the fish in 2005 was destined for the black market.

“They don’t have any direct evidence that’s the case,” he said.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Salmon influx a sign of success

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dan.ferguson@langleytimes.com

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