A father and son who are lifelong fishermen will pay $31,200 in fines for illegal crab fishing near Haida Gwaii and Bella Bella.
Steve Tarkanen, 61, and his son Jory Tarkanen, 32, both pled guilty for leaving crab traps in the water too long, for failing to return halibut caught as bycatch, and for failing to log or report sales of their catches after one fishing trip near Masset in 2014 and another near Bella Bella in 2016.
While the fishermen’s lawyer recommended fines of $11,000, Judge Barbara Flewelling ruled on Aug. 24 that they should pay a penalty closer to the $42,200 sought by the Crown.
“A fine should be meaningful, and should be more than the price of doing business,” Flewelling wrote.
“I am not at all satisfied that either of these gentlemen is genuinely remorseful and take responsibility for their actions in the true sense of the words,” she added, after reviewing the way the case was investigated.
“For each of the offences, there was an excuse proffered to deflect or minimize their own responsibility.”
Flewelling said the only reason the Tarkanens were caught is because First Nation fishery guardians near Bella Bella noticed in June 2016 that their crab traps were “oversoaked,” meaning they had been set under water for longer than 18 days.
In fact, more than half of the 339 traps they set were soaked for between 28 and 35 days — many of the crabs were dead in the traps when they were finally hauled to dock.
Alerted by the fishery guardians, a fishery officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) met Steve and Jory Tarkanen to review their log books.
While the books said the traps had only been soaking up to 18 days, a GPS monitor aboard their boat, the Vikla I, showed otherwise.
Furthermore, a review of video footage from 2014 shows crew members on the Vikla I cutting up live halibut to use as bait for crab traps set near Haida Gwaii. Under the Fisheries Act, halibut caught as bycatch must be returned to the sea with the least harm possible.
While acknowledging that it is not a defence since he was vessel master for the Vikla I at the time, Steve Tarkanen said the crew member was new, and that he hadn’t known he was cutting live halibut.
Judge Flewelling was unimpressed by that excuse and, after reviewing evidence including mechanic’s records, by another the owners gave for the oversoaking near Bella Bella — that the vessel was in for emergency repairs, delaying the hauling up of the traps.
“This excuse is, in my view, another attempt to deflect personal responsibility,” Flewelling wrote.
The judge’s decision noted that Fisheries Act offences are all of strict liability, and all licensed fishermen are expected to know the rules in detail.
“There is no tolerance for ‘almost’ or ‘close’ compliance.”
Of the $31,200 total penalty, $25,000 will be available from local DFO officers for projects that protect or conserve fish habitat around Haida Gwaii. For more information, call the Masset DFO office at 250-626-3316.