A Crown prosecutor has asked a judge to fine a fisherman $18,000 for his part in illegally fishing crab in Burrard Inlet.
Sammy Alvin-Raymond John Williams, 32, was found guilty in November of several fishing offences including setting gear in Burrard Inlet during a closed time, fishing for Dungeness crab in waters during a closed time, fishing without a licence and possessing crab in contravention of the Federal Fisheries Act.
Fisheries officers netted three people on fisheries charges following a high-speed chase of a fishing boat in Burrard Inlet on the night of March 1, 2020.
The three men on board the boat had been fishing at night in the inlet, with no navigation lights on, using unmarked crab traps attached to a line that they pulled up from the bottom of the harbour, including fishing in the path of the SeaBus, a Crown prosecutor said.
When officers boarded the boat, they found 250 Dungeness crabs as well as four commercial crab traps. Another three traps were recovered from the bottom of the harbour.
Egregious case of poaching: Crown
“He was clearly trying to avoid detection, which supports the fact that he's deliberately engaging in illegal fishing,” said Crown counsel Chantelle Coulson during a sentencing hearing May 27 in North Vancouver provincial court. “This was an egregious incidence of poaching”
She noted the maximum fine for fisheries offences is $100,000 and called for a significant fine in the case to provide a deterrent to others who might be tempted not to follow the rules.
“Crab fishing is lucrative for those who pay the cost,” Coulson said. “It’s even more lucrative for poachers.
“A message needs to be sent to the fishing community that poaching is not acceptable.”
Williams’ defence lawyer Nick Elson called for a much smaller fine of $2,500, noting Williams “was not really the guiding mind of this operation” and has already suffered financial consequences by having his $20,000 fishing boat seized.
Fishing boat seized
Williams’ vessel – which he bought with his father’s proceeds from a residential school survivor’s settlement – has been forfeited to the Crown, said the lawyer.
Williams also borrowed money from the Nuu Chah-Nulth First Nation to invest in a company owned by the wife of one of his co-accused in the case, said Elson. But as a result of the court proceedings, those assets are currently frozen, said the lawyer.
Elson said his client learned to fish as a child from his relatives, adding that Indigenous people have been stewards of the resource for millennia.
Judge Lyndsay Smith questioned Elson on some of those points.
People who value the resource, “don't stuff commercial crab traps full of crabs so tight, they can barely move,” she said. “That’s not stewardship. That's not respect for the land. That's just greed.”
“I respect that he is from a family of fishers, I respect and understand that being engaged in fishing is part of his life. But presumably, he wants his kids to have a few fish around, a few crabs left. And if everybody did what he and his friends were doing that night, there would be nothing left. That's the whole point.”
A co-accused in the case, fisherman Scott Stanley Matthew Steer was earlier handed a six-month jail sentence and lifetime crab fishing ban for his repeated and flagrant flouting of fisheries laws, including for five offences stemming from the same incident.
In a written decision describing the events, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Edelmann described how just before midnight on March 1, 2020, SeaBus operators reported a small vessel in Vancouver Harbour without its lights on. Fisheries officers were dispatched to the scene where they testified seeing the vessel listing to the side in a manner consistent with hauling crab traps up from the sea floor. Fisheries officers described how after they approached, the vessel suddenly straightened, left suddenly, and started driving erratically at a high rate of speed.
Fisheries officers said the pursuit on the water lasted for about 10 minutes, ending at Lonsdale Quay where they jumped aboard the vessel.
The government’s director of civil forfeiture is also going after a house on Gabriola Island where Steer and his wife Melissa Larocque live, as well as money held in bank accounts controlled by them.
A third man aboard the board, Christopher Robin Shill was fined $5,000 for obstruction of a fisheries officer in connection with the case in December.
The judge has reserved her decision on Williams' sentence.