Are shellfish vigilantes next?


Late last month, two teams of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officers converged on the Sunshine Coast for a five-day enforcement blitz. Their main focus was Porpoise Bay and waters around Sechelt. They issued some 30 violation tickets for illegal harvesting of clams, oysters and rockfish, worth a total of $14,000 in fines.

It was a drop in the bucket, but great while it lasted. Confirming what is locally common knowledge, a DFO officer said the pressure “on shellfish alone seems to be expanding on the Sunshine Coast” and noted that most of the offenders were from Vancouver or “people from outside Canada accompanying people from Vancouver.”

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The highly publicized effort involved DFO officers from Powell River, Squamish, Nanaimo and the Lower Mainland because there is no longer an office based on the Sunshine Coast. Nor does DFO have any plans to reopen an office here to address the virtually continuous shellfish poaching in the region, despite intensive lobbying efforts this spring. Instead, an additional officer will be working out of Powell River, and we’ve been told to expect more periodic blitzes and patrols. Meanwhile, as of next April, there will reportedly be no DFO office based in Squamish either.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a Sechelt couple wrote to the paper complaining about “hordes” of people “strip mining the beaches” at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, showing up with five-gallon buckets and “picking up everything they could find alive.” The couple’s attempt to get some action from the responsible authorities was an exercise in futility and frustration. Sadly, that seems to be the norm and the recent enforcement blitz merely provided a stark contrast to business as usual.

As the beaches are stripped, public anger grows. The latest development, as Sean Eckford reports this week, is a Facebook group that mushroomed into almost 750 members in a few days, calling itself Sunshine Coast Fish and Wildlife Protection. Its intent is to “name-and-shame, rat out to the authorities, post incriminating photos and evidence, and do everything else we can to reduce illegal hunting, fishing, trapping, harvesting, and harassment of fish and wildlife on the Sunshine Coast.”

Well aware of its inadequate presence, DFO can’t discourage the group. However, it is warning the public that directly engaging or confronting possible poachers is a bad idea and could be a safety or liability risk. In other words, the “good guy” could wind up being assaulted or charged with assault, as just two possible scenarios.

Shellfish vigilantism is the last thing the Sunshine Coast needs, but if this gaping hole in enforcement is left open, we fear it’s coming. With suspected scofflaws targeted along ethnic lines, it could get real ugly, fast.

The Sunshine Coast needs a fully staffed DFO office. The last fisheries minister was told and did nothing about it. We suspect he had never actually studied a map of the region or understood what ferry dependency means.

Let’s hope the new minister is a little brighter and knows a bad ending in the making when he sees one.

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