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B.C. man gets $250K in fines for illegal prawn fishing in protected area

This photo of a prawn trap containing glass sponges from the reef was presented as evidence in court. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) This photo of a prawn trap containing glass sponges from the reef was presented as evidence in court. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
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A B.C. man has been fined $250,000 and ordered to forfeit $80,000 worth of gear after he was found guilty of 13 violations of the federal Fisheries Act.

The sentence was handed down in Sechelt provincial court on Jan. 31, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a statement sharing details of the case on Friday.

According to the DFO, the penalties stem from an investigation that began in July 2020. At that time, investigators seized prawn traps from the vessel master of the commercial fishing vessel Darkstar, because they had been "illegally set in the Strait of Georgia Glass Sponge Reef Marine Refuges near Sechelt."

"This area is protected and closed to all prawn fishing due to the highly sensitive nature of this habitat," the statement reads.

Investigators seized a total of 553 commercial prawn traps and 450 pounds of live prawns, the DFO said.

While the DFO's statement does not name the vessel master, online court records show Dean Keitsch was sentenced for 13 fishing-related infractions in Sechelt provincial court on Jan. 31.

Contacted by CTV News, the DFO confirmed that Keitsch was the man it was referring to in its statement.

According to the DFO, the vessel master was also in violation of the conditions of his commercial licence between July 2 and Sept. 24, 2020.

Those violations included "hauling gear prior to 7 a.m.; failing to keep an accurate log book; failing to provide records in the required time; and having buoys that were in non-compliance with the Fisheries Act regulations," the statement reads.

Keitsch pleaded guilty to seven of the 13 counts against him. After a "long-running court case," he was found guilty of the other six in May 2023, the DFO said.

"During the sentencing hearing, a member of the shíshálh Nation read an impact statement outlining the Nation’s concerns about illegal fishing in the Glass Sponge Reef, which is a globally unique marine refuge," the statement reads.

"Additional testimony was given by DFO expert witness Dr. Anya Dunham. Dr. Dunham gave scientific evidence of the harm caused by the illegal fishing activity within this protected area."

The DFO asks anyone with information on illegal fishing activities to call its toll-free violation reporting line at 800-465-4336 or to email DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca. 

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