Several crab fishery observers have been charged with providing false information to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, The Telegram has learned.
Responding to an inquiry from The Telegram, Lisa Lawlor, communications officer with the Newfoundland and Labrador Region for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said there are seven at-sea fisheries observers who have been charged.
“These cases are currently being investigated or are before the courts,” Lawlor wrote in an email.
At-sea observers — there are about 80 in the provincial fishery — are designated by DFO but employed and supervised by a third-party company.
They monitor and record data related to their assigned boat’s catch, such as the size of the catch, composition and location. Monitoring isn’t done on every trip, but assigned randomly.
Lloyd Slaney, chief of enforcement operations for DFO, said he couldn’t comment on the specific charges, which are in various stages before the courts, but said the charges were laid last year as a result of a 2009 investigation.
Slaney said two of the matters have already been dealt with, and he expects the department to release information about court proceedings once all the matters are settled.
The fisheries observer program began more than 30 years ago, but charges like this have never been laid before against at-sea observers, he said.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen charges of this nature,” said Slaney, adding that despite the charges, the observer program is an effective and necessary component of the fishery.
“We believe the program is certainly a very successful program. It’s expanded a lot since its first year, dating back to the 1970s. All I can say is the program continues to provide us with valuable information about the fisheries within the province, and we put a lot of effort into deployments of these people and we rely heavily on them for the purposes of providing information.”
Slaney couldn’t say if problems with observers have gone unnoticed in years past.
“It’s the first time these matters have come to our attention. We certainly take them quite seriously; they’re before the courts as we speak,” he said. “If they come to our attention at any point in time, whether it’s in the past or in the future, we certainly will deal with it in the manner that we feel is necessary.”
It’s not the first time the crab fishery has been investigated for misreporting information.
In 2009, Labrador Sea Products was fined $275,000 for misreporting crab landings, while a director of the company and a skipper who offloaded crab at its Black Tickle plant were fined $50,000 and $25,000 respectively.
A dockside observer was convicted in 2006 of providing false information to DFO and fined $7,000 in relation to the Labrador Sea Products matter, which involved the deliberate underreporting of the company’s crab catch from 2001-2003. The falsified reports hid more than 105,00 pounds of crab.
Also in 2009, a plant manager with Quinlan Brothers in Bay de Verde was fined $50,000 for not reporting more than 218,000 pounds of crab 10 years earlier.