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Illegal prawn trapping in Howe Sound protected area nets $40,000 fine

Fisheries officers caught a man with prawn traps in an area closed to fishing to protect reef-building glass sponges. Canada has international agreements to protect this underwater species.
glass sponge
Glass sponge in Howe Sound, B.C.

A man found prawn trapping in a protected glass sponge reef area in Howe Sound has been fined $40,000.

John Howard Troy Henderson pleaded guilty to placing or setting prawn traps in a closed time contrary to the federal Fisheries Act.

Fisheries officers were in the Defence Islands Glass Sponge Reef area when their propeller became tangled in a buoy line May 29, 2019. Pulling up the buoy, they found connected boat licensing registration data.

Officers determined Henderson was the owner of buoy line. He was notified that he had set a string of prawn traps within the reef closure boundary.

Henderson confirmed the traps were his, telling officers he had no idea there was a glass sponge reef there. He said he was unaware of the closure and that it was not his intention to set the traps in a closed area.

The reef has been closed to fishing since 2015.

Glass sponges are fragile, rare, filter-feeding animals with skeletons made of glass, Sechelt provincial court Judge Steven Merrick said in a May 25 ruling. The slow-growing but long-lived species live more than 200 years.

Reef-building glass sponges were common 200 million years ago but were thought to be extinct until discovered in B.C. and Washington State in the late 1980s.

The skeletons remain after the individual sponges die and new sponges settle on these skeletons, creating mounds or reefs. Glass sponges can be up to 19 metres high and over a kilometre wide, the judge said.

“Canada has international obligations to protect glass sponge reefs pursuant to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization Code Of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries,” Merrick said.

Crown asked for a $50,000 fine while defence sought a $10,000 penalty.

The judge said the reef is a delicate site, one not easily rejuvenated.

It's certainly not the first such case of a high fine for such activity in that area.

In November 2021, a commercial fisher who set 33 prawn traps inside a protected glass sponge reef area in Howe Sound was fined $25,000 and had his prawn fishing licence suspended for a year. That was following May 2016 offences.

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