A prawn fishing boat owned by McNeill Fishing Ltd. is seized by fisheries officers. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

A prawn fishing boat owned by McNeill Fishing Ltd. is seized by fisheries officers. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

McNeill Fishing Ltd., not former president, charged with fishing violations

A story in the Jan. 19 Observer incorrectly reported a recent conviction against McNeill Fishing Ltd.

While the company pled guilty and paid $33,598 for some prawn fishing violations on Dec. 18, the story wrongly stated that Michael Stanley McNeill was also convicted personally.

The Observer regrets the error.

In fact, McNeill was not on either boat, the Mega Bite and the Zomby Woof, when the violations occurred last May near Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert. He had also stepped down as president of McNeill Fishing Ltd. over a month before.

“My name never should have been brought up,” McNeil says. “There was nothing on me.”

In 2016, McNeill pled guilty and was fined $20,000 for illegal prawn fishing in Cumshewa Inlet.

As part of that earlier conviction, the court ordered that for three years McNeill “shall not commercially prawn fish and shall not possess an interest in any vessel licenced to participate in commercial prawn fishing.”

After seeking legal advice, McNeill transferred ownership of McNeill Fishing Ltd. to his wife so he would not breach the order.

Speaking to the Observer last week, McNeill said Fisheries and Oceans Canada was convinced he had breached the order because of an outdated file that still listed him as company president and his cell-phone communications.

But the argument didn’t hold up.

A month before the trial date, McNeil said Crown counsel phoned to arrange a deal — McNeill Fishing Ltd. would plead guilty and pay fines for the fishing violations, but the breach of order charge against McNeill himself was dropped. The two seized boats and some $140,000 of gear were also returned.

“That’s a major thing, when there’s a breach of court order,” McNeill said.

“They don’t just give boats and everything back. They gave it back because they knew DFO is wrong.”

At the same time as the plea was made Dec. 18, the original 2016 court order prohibiting McNeill from prawn fishing was expanded. It now has a list of six conditions, including one stating that until Oct. 4, 2019, McNeill cannot have any interest in a commercial prawn licence or vessel “including legal, equitable, absolute, contingent, operational, financial or beneficial interests.”

For the Fisheries Act violations, which included going over prawn-trap quotas and using prawn traps without a vessel registration number, McNeill Fishing Ltd. paid a $3,500 fine and a $16,500 penalty that will go toward fish habitat conservation in Haida Gwaii. The company also forfeited $13,598 in seized prawn, leading to a total penalty of $33,598.

A press release posted by DFO last week noted that those fines reflect the fact that McNeill Fishing Ltd. missed several fisheries while Mega Bite and Zomby Woof were under seizure.

McNeill said the company missed the rest of the prawn fishery plus all or part of the salmon, sea cumber, and urchin fisheries.

“There’s money lost everywhere here,” said McNeill, including the money he spent on legal fees and the money taxpayers spent to needlessly seize the boats.

If anything, McNeill said the Observer should have reported that he won his case.

“We just had a big party over this thing, celebrating that we won the whole court case and all of a sudden this comes up,” he said.

“I’m like, ‘Wow.’”

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