The names of three men charged in connection with 11,000 illegally-harvested abalone have been released.
Daniel McNeill and Randall Graff, both 23 years-old and residents of Skidegate and Stanley McNeill, 33, who currently resides in Prince Rupert, have been charged with two counts under the Fisheries Act and one count under the Species at Risk Act.
The Fisheries Act charges, fishing abalone at a closed time and possessing abalone, come with a maximum $500,000 fine, two years in prison or both.
The Species at Risk Act charge of possessing a threatened species comes with a fine up to $250,000, up to five years imprisonment or both.
Blair Thexton, of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Prince Rupert says the case must now go to first appearance in court, where the defendants will enter a plea and then the Crown will recommend the penalties sought.
Mr. Thexton says a common guideline for fines is $1,000 per abalone captured, but because there were so many animals involved in this case, the penalty may be difficult to determine.
“This was really off the scale,” he says.
Fisheries officers were shocked, when after an elaborate sting operation, they caught three men with a truck load of 11,000 pieces of northern abalone outside of Port Edward on February 20.
Northern abalone has been declared threatened since 1999 and the fishery has been closed since 1990 due to extreme conservation concerns.
“Money was obviously a motivating factor,” Mr. Thexton said after the arrests. He told the Observer abalone sells on the black market for $25 to $100 a pound. The men had 2,470 pounds in their possession.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not seen a recovery of abalone stocks since the closure was put in place and scientists believe the main threat to the species is from poaching.
“It was the biggest bust in BC history,” said Mr. Thexton.
The defendants’ first appearance will be in the next two months. The case will be heard in Prince Rupert.
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