(Haida Gwaii Observer/File photo)

Queen Charlotte Lodge fined $47,500 for oversized halibut

Second major penalty for QCL since December 2016

Queen Charlotte Lodge has landed another record penalty for fishing violations.

The luxury fishing resort at Naden Harbour will pay $47,500 after a guided guest kept an oversized halibut that the resort failed to track. From the total penalty, $39,800 will go to conserving fish habitat on Haida Gwaii.

“It’s large — it’s reflective of the seriousness of the offence,” said Alexander Clarkson, the federal Crown counsel in the case.

The $47,500 is the second major penalty against QCL in recent years.

In December 2016, the company was ordered to pay $35,000 for mishandling and mislabelling about 750 pounds of salmon and halibut, including halibut that were cut in such a way they couldn’t be measured.

The offences actually happened in August 2014 and August 2015.

RELATED: Queen Charlotte Lodge to pay $35,000 for illegal fishing

Clarkson said QCL’s earlier conviction was a factor in the judge’s most recent sentencing, as was the size of the lodge.

Billed as first-class fishing less than three hours from Vancouver, Queen Charlotte Lodge can host about 100 guests between its main lodge and chalets, making it one of the largest sport-fishing lodges on the coast.

Clarkson said the two years it took to resolve the case is not unusual, though it was pushed back a few months because it was originally scheduled during the lodge’s busy summer season.

What is unusual is that after the judge’s sentencing on April 25, QCL decided of its own accord to hire a staff person responsible for tracking fishing regulations.

“It’s the first case I know of where the lodge is going to hire a person responsible for making sure the fishers are complying with the length requirements,” Clarkson said.

“I think that’s a good step, and maybe something other lodges might want to consider.”

Geoff Thorburn was one of the three DFO fishery officers who found the oversized halibut during a full site inspection of Queen Charlotte Lodge on Aug. 23, 2015.

After inspecting the lodge’s large freezers, Thorburn noticed that one guest had a halibut that wasn’t marked anywhere in QCL’s tracking system — a system the lodge was ordered to put in place after the mishandling/mislabelling case.

Thorburn said the untracked halibut was clearly quite large, even though it was already filleted, and its head removed.

From another guest’s box, Thorburn found a halibut of the maximum legal length — 133 cm — and after weighing the two, he found the processed one was still about 20 pounds heavier. A halibut of 133 cm is estimated to weigh over 65 pounds.

The next day, fishery officers caught up with the fisher in the Masset Airport. On his fishing licence, he had written that the fish was 133 cm.

“He came forward and said that actually, it was bigger than that,” said Thorburn.

Now with a search warrant, the DFO officers returned to the lodge a week later and confirmed who the guide was, and that the oversized halibut had likely measured between 142 and 148 cm when caught. Jason Orr, the guide, was later named in one of the two charges against the company.

Thorburn said the nearly $50,000 fine should be a warning to other fishing lodges, which had already taken notice of the $35,000 fine a couple years earlier.

“These lodges are at a higher responsibility,” Thorburn said.

“They cater to a guest who may not know much about fishing, and part of knowing about fishing is knowing the rules and regulations.”

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