A photo shows one of the waterproof crab-trap tags that Ernie Mason and Sandy Hankewich use to try and stop oversoaking in the waters around Klemtu. (Submitted)

Oversoaked crab traps shows need for shared authority: Kitasoo Guardians

Any longer and the crab are likely to die and go to waste.

Ernie Mason knows that even 18 days is a long time to soak a crab trap.

That’s the legal limit for leaving a trap underwater. Any longer and the crab are likely to die and go to waste.

Two years ago, Mason and his wife Sandy Hankewich flagged a set of oversoaked traps just north of their home in Klemtu. There were 339 traps in all, and over half were soaked for a month or more.

RELATED: Father and son fined $31,000 for crab fishing offences

It wasn’t the first time Mason has seen something similar — since 1993, he has worked the waters around Klemtu as part of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais fisheries program.

But this time was different. This time, Mason and Hankewich had a homemade system of waterproof, date-stamped trap tags and photo evidence to match.

And this time, as the Observer reported in September, their work led to a $31,200 fine against two lifelong fishermen, not only for oversoaking the traps near Klemtu, but also for cutting up live halibut for bait while fishing north of Masset.

Most of that penalty will now fund fish habitat conservation projects around Haida Gwaii.

“We need to do everything we can to keep an eye on the food source, for the future generations,” Mason said.

Hankewich agreed.

“There’s a very heavy reliance on food fish here,” she said, speaking of Klemtu.

While two years was a long wait, Mason and Hankewich were happy with the end result, even though they had hoped to present their evidence in court (the fishermen pled guilty before they got a chance).

But they say it could all go much better if only local people had the authority to step up enforcement.

Mason said in this case and others, they have reported fisheries violations to the DFO office in Bella Bella.

“We’ve called before and been told they have a trip planned in a week or 10 days, then hear nothing,” he said, noting that the office is a three-hour boat ride away.

“I think they’re pretty short-staffed there, too.”

In other cases of suspected oversoaking, Mason said the DFO asked if they had a set date for the traps — something that is only recorded in the fishermen’s log books or the records of third-party monitoring companies.

So, like big-city parking cops who chalk tires to see if drivers are over-parking their cars, Hankewich and Mason came up with a system of waterproof tags that let crab fishers know their traps are being monitored.

A note on the tag asks the fishers to remove them when they pull the trap, and there is a phone number for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority if they have any questions.

When Mason and Hankewich found the 339 oversoaked traps in 2016, they notified the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais Guardian Watchmen as well as the DFO — it’s a grassroots effort that grew out of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program.

Sam Harrison, a lawyer and consultant with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority, said the Watchmen knew the traps were down, knew they were killing crabs, but did not have the authority to pull them.

Had DFO worked more closely with the Watchmen, Harrison said, many crabs could have been protected and the penalties still imposed.

“It’s an ongoing issue that we don’t have that authority under Canadian law,” Harrison said.

“The Guardian Watchmen here really want to work with Canada, and to do the monitoring for DFO.”

Harrison noted that the Kitasoo/Xai’xais have authority to enforce respectful fishing under hereditary, Indigenous law that goes back thousands of years.

“What we’re trying to do is bring that authority in line with Canada’s authority — not to displace Canada’s authority entirely, that’s not the goal.”

“The goal is to work in partnership with Canada’s rules.”

crab trapsFishing Haida Gwaiikitimat kitamaat

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii couple frustrated after Air Canada cancels flight, denies compensation

Mike Racz says another passenger received $1,000 while he was only offered e-coupon and promo code

Haida Gwaii teachers heading back to empty classrooms on June 1

SD50 working with CHN following May 21 request to keep school closed until state of emergency lifted

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

VIDEO: Green Coast offers free kayaking to Haida Gwaii residents

First “pop-up paddle” held Monday, May 25; free community paddles expected to continue weekly

DFO allowing at-sea observers again if safe work procedures in place

May 15 fishery notice lays out conditions for allowing at-sea observers onboard amid COVID-19

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

Most Read