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Fisheries minister stands by Nova Scotia grandfather’s $700 fishing fine


Doug Barkhouse and his three-year-old granddaughter Madison Barkhouse are shown fishing at MacElmons Pond Provincial Park in Debert.
Doug Barkhouse and his three-year-old granddaughter Madison Barkhouse are shown fishing at MacElmons Pond Provincial Park in Debert.

Doug Barkhouse figured the federal fisheries minister understood that he was simply teaching his three-year-old granddaughter how to use her miniature fishing rod and the minister would make the $700 fine go away.

After all, the minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, told The Chronicle Herald last week that his grandfather had taught him to fish and he sympathized with Barkhouse’s misfortune. Wilkinson also pledged to look into the circumstances of the June 8 fishing incident at MacElmons Pond Provincial Park in Debert.

Wilkinson has looked into the matter and is in full support of the fisheries officer’s handling of the incident and thinks the hefty fine is justified, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Wilkinson was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Department spokeswoman Jocelyn Lubczuk said Fisheries and Oceans’ Conservation and Protection program investigated and the minister is satisfied with the response that he’s received from staff. “There’s not much more that he can comment on with this particular story,” said Lubczuk.

“He was acting concerned, promising to investigate but really all he wanted to do was give himself some time until it blew over and people forgot about my case.”

            - Doug Barkhouse, recipient of fine

Barkhouse said he was disappointed by the news but ultimately not surprised.

“I was hoping that the minister would step in and do the right thing here but I think he was just acting like politicians do,” said Barkhouse. “He was acting concerned, promising to investigate but really all he wanted to do was give himself some time until it blew over and people forgot about my case.”

He still plans to fight the $697.50 fine “for fishing by jigging in inland waters,” violating section 9 (a) of the Maritime Provinces Fishery Regulations.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada defines jigging as “fishing by manipulating one or more hooks so as to pierce a fish in any part of its body instead of luring the fish to take the hook or hooks into its mouth.”

Barkhouse insists he’s innocent because he and his granddaughter were using rubber minnows for bait at the time and the hook on the child’s two-foot-rod had been cut down to less than a quarter of its original size to avoid injury to the little girl. The 65-year-old grandfather is also taking issue with the conduct of the fisheries officer. Barkhouse said the officer had behaved disrespectfully, was overly aggressive and threatened to arrest him.

Michael Pollard, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, called the alleged incident “almost astonishing.” He said his group has worked hard to get more young people involved in fishing and the incident could set back the group’s efforts by a decade.

“So you’ve got the public reading this story and saying, ‘What do I need to do in order to take my granddaughter or grandson fishing legally and not get into trouble?’”

            - Michael Pollard, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters

“The clubs that we represent spend endless numbers of hours taking people out on fishing derbies, introducing them to the provincial learn to fish program and providing the rods and reels and bait trying to get them that first fish on a hook and one incident like this can set us back 10 years,” said Pollard. “People will look at this and say what actually happened there? Would I know what to do? Why did he get fined and why this amount of money when he’s trying to help his granddaughter learn to fish?

“So you’ve got the public reading this story and saying, ‘What do I need to do in order to take my granddaughter or grandson fishing legally and not get into trouble?’”

He said officers have a lot of latitude in the way they enforce fishing laws and regulation and in this case Barkhouse ran into the wrong one. He figures the minister wouldn’t say that the officer conducted himself inappropriately, regardless if he believed that to be true.

“The officer decided to go the whole distance and even the minister was backtracking. Now he doesn’t know really what to do. All I can say is the government doesn’t have much appetite for losing face right now. They don’t want to say that they have an officer out there that made a mistake. But it’s most unfortunate because it sends a terrible message.”

Lubczuk said Barkhouse had also broken other fishing laws during the incident, including fishing too close to a fishway — a structure built to protect fish. Barkhouse said he never saw any signs warning it’s an illegal fishing area and others were also fishing at the time.

Lubczuk said it’s up to people to understand applicable fishing laws and regulations.

But Pollard argues that presents a challenge for many fishers in the province. “There are probably not 10 per cent of the people in the province that understands the section of the act that they’re using to fine this man,” said Pollard.

Jocelin d’Entremont, a Yarmouth-based lawyer specializing in fisheries law, said the case is straightforward from a legal perspective. If it ends up before the courts the Crown would have only to prove whether the hook used in the incident meets Fisheries and Oceans’ definition of jigging.

“But why are they doing this?” said d’Entremont. “The whole point of seeking convictions is that the court wants to send a message of denunciation and deterrence.

“I don’t know who were trying to denounce or deter. What’s the subset of the population that would be using their grandkids as a reason to fish illegally? It seems like we’re hitting a small subset. And how many kids do we have a tough time trying to get outside?”

RESOURCES:

Nova Scotia Anglers' Handbook 2019

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