Three men and a woman, all from View Royal, have been charged with various fisheries offences after they were caught with 125 live crabs in Sooke, 124 of which were illegal. While the crabs escaped the traps, the four face potentially thousands of dollars in fines and up to six months in jail.
“It should be a substantial deterrence,” said federal fisheries officer Roy Osselton. He hopes that as this story gets more attention, it will also deter those not aware of the punishments for harvesting crabs illegally.
“I’d like to get the word out,” he said, adding the regulations are in place to ensure the sustainability of crab in the region.
Osselton noted that illegal crabbing practices are prevalent, but when the fishing is good, he said, so is compliance. When it’s not, some people are tempted to take undersized or female crabs, both of which are not legal to keep.
It’s not just fishery officers that are on the lookout for fishing offences. The charges mentioned above resulted after a Sooke RCMP officer was patrolling the area around the Sooke Rotary Pier at 1:15 a.m. on July 2. Upon seeing the officer, the three men attempted to flee the area and threw their crabbing gear into the bushes. They were located a short distance away with buckets filled with crabs. In total, they had 125 live crabs in their possession and in a nearby vehicle, which was also occupied by the wife of one of the men.
Of the crabs, 124 were undersized and 110 were female.
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, all female dungeness or red rock crabs – regardless of size – must be immediately returned to the water in the least harmful way possible. All crabs must be measured immediately and undersized crabs must also be returned without delay. To harvest crabs, residents must possess a valid Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Licence, which allows the holder to keep four crabs per day.
“We have two choices, we can issue tickets in the field or appearance notices,” Osselton said. However, he noted keeping female crabs is a relatively new charge that is accompanied by a mandatory appearance notice, so in this case, there was no choice.
The View Royal men, in their 40’s and 60’s, along with the 43-year-old woman, have their first appearance scheduled for Oct. 13.
It will be up to a judge how the fines are broken down and whether jail time will be served.
Each offence is accompanied by a $100 fine plus an additional $50 per crab, up to $1,000. But as Osselton noted, the same crab can be the subject of multiple offences.
“When you’re looking at 125 crabs and 124 are illegal, you’re looking at a lot of fines.” He predicted each offender will be facing between $3,000 to $6,000 in fines, but as he noted, “it’s up to the judge to set.”
Fines aren’t the only punishment offenders can receive, he said. “You can get up to six months in jail if the judge feels it’s necessary.” Although, in this case, he expected that fines will be the only consequence.
As for the area they were fishing in, Osselton said, “we’re working in partnership with the Sooke RCMP to provide as much coverage as we can.”
The crabs were returned to the ocean and are expected to make a full recovery after their late-night ordeal.
To report suspicious fishing activity or habitat violations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada asks the public to call their 24-hour, toll-free line at 1-800-465-4336.