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Cancelling legal elver fishery has not stopped poaching in N.S. as RCMP, DFO announce arrests

Motion-activated trail camera images are once again being sent to officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by a Nova Scotia commercial elver license holder who says they show poachers caught in the act just after midnight on Monday.  (Atlantic Elver images - image credit)
Motion-activated trail camera images are once again being sent to officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by a Nova Scotia commercial elver license holder who says they show poachers caught in the act just after midnight on Monday. (Atlantic Elver images - image credit)

Nova Scotia RCMP have charged a Parrsboro man with multiple criminal counts after a night time altercation with fishery officers attempting to stop illegal elver fishing in Hubbards this weekend.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says its officers tried to inspect a vehicle on Saturday "as part of their normal activities to deter and disrupt unauthorised elver harvest."

"An individual obstructed fishery officers from conducting the inspection and struck the officers with their vehicle while fleeing to attempt to avoid arrest.

"The fishery officers involved were not injured and alerted local RCMP to the incident," DFO spokesperson Lauren Sankey said in an emailed response to CBC News.

A red Silverado truck fled from DFO in Tantallon shortly before 11 p.m. A half hour later a 34-year old man from Parrsboro was arrested on Highway 102 during a traffic stop initiated by both agencies, the RCMP said.

The driver will appear in provincial court on May 16 facing charges of assaulting a peace officer, assault with a weapon, flight from a peace officer and resisting a peace officer.

Legal season closed

The authorized commercial elver fishing season in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was cancelled this year after the department admitted it could not control poaching nor the export of baby eels which sell for thousands of dollars a kilogram.

They are shipped live to China and grown out for food.

Despite the shutdown, poaching in southwest Nova Scotia — from Hubbards to Yarmouth — has continued.

In a news release Monday, DFO said so far this month it has arrested 26 people, seized six vehicles, dozens of dip nets, one gun and released 6.5 kilos of elvers back into rivers.

Five arrests were previously announced, on March 11, the day Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier officially cancelled the season amid warnings from observers that it would do nothing to stop poaching.

DFO: 26 arrests so far in March

The department says all 26 individuals — including the Parrsboro man — are under investigation under the Fisheries Act and Maritimes provinces fishery regulations for the unauthorized harvest of elvers.

Critics like Nova Scotia Conservative MP Rick Perkins, who represents South Shore-St. Margarets, say those arrested are released and rarely face charges.

Trail camera chronicle of poaching resumes

On Monday, commercial licence holder Stanley King of Atlantic Elver resumed sending motion activated trail camera images to DFO of what he says is elver poachers caught in the act.

The images are of illegal fishing on rivers in Hubbards and Boutiliers Point shortly after midnight Monday. Both locations were overrun by poachers in 2023.

"Given the minister felt the need to cancel the season, putting 1,100 people out of work, I hope that DFO conservation and protection [officers] will put in more effort than the token enforcement the industry has witnessed over the last four years," King wrote in a letter sent to the minister and DFO officials.

In 2023 King sent dozens of images of poaching to then federal minister Joyce Murray after she shut down the elver fishery 18 days into the season.

Poachers overwhelmed DFO's ability to safely manage the fishery.

There were some 1,500 separate incidents of unauthorized fishing,

The legal elver harvest is worth about $45 million a year. Before it was cancelled for 2024, the authorized quota was just under 10,000 kilograms. It was shared between eight commercial licence holders, one communal commercial Indigenous licence and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick exercising treaty right to fish for a moderate living with Fisheries and Oceans Canada's approval.

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