Michael Bullock, captain of the commercial halibut fishing vessel Hopefull, has been hit was fines totalling $45,000 after he was convicted of illegally fishing in the protected sponge reefs off the coast of Haida Gwaii.
Bullock was ordered by the court to pay $20,000 for illegal activity prohibited under the Hecate Marine Protection Act and ordered an additional fine, under the Fisheries Act of $25,000 for possessing illegally caught fish. The final conviction on Oct. 15, 2019 made it the first such case under the Oceans Act.
The glass sponge reefs in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound are more than 9,000 years old and provide a rich eco-system for a variety of species. The reefs were designated in 2017 as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). The Hecate MPA was nominated as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site in April 2018 under the World Heritage Convention.
“MPA’s are legally protected from certain activities that can cause harm to its specific eco-system,” the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) stated in a press release. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a mandate to protect and conserve marine resources and to prosecute offenders under the Fisheries Act.”
Compliance with the Act and other laws are carried out through a combination of land, air and seas patrols, as well as education and awareness activities.
The illegal activity by Bullock was discovered on a review of an electronic monitoring system of at-sea observation data, which is a mandatory component of commercial groundfish fisheries. The data is reviewed by a third party who forward information to fisheries officers.
The conviction of illegal fishing in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs was welcomed by CPAWS-BC who have been working since the early 2000s to protect B.C.’s glass sponge reefs.
Fishing activity can cause severe harm to these fragile habitats. Prawn and crab traps drop down and crush glass sponge reefs.
Bottom trawling of heavy nets dragged along the seafloor destroy everything in their path while kicking up clouds of disturbed sediment, that prevent the sponges from feeding.
“Enforcement of these Ocean Act MPA regulations will help ensure these rare eco-systems are not destroyed due to human activities,” said CPAWS-BC.