A skilled fishing master who plundered the halibut and sablefish grounds off the west coast of Vancouver Island has been jailed and effectively banned from the waterfront for 10 years by the Provincial Court of B.C.
In a decision handed down this week, Justice Ted Gouge convicted Scott Steer on eight counts for illegally turning off a camera system aboard the Pacific Titan (standard equipment on commercial boats to monitor catches) and for repeatedly landing and selling "thousands of pounds" of fish without recording or reporting it.
Court heard that Mr. Steer had good catches in the six months he ran the Pacific Titan, one day taking so many halibut his decks were awash with fish and his crew worked the longest days of their lives.
But he landed much of his catch at night, off-loading it when his crew wasn't present and telling the vessel owners the catch was so small it didn't cover the cost of fuel. By slipping fish ashore, he also evaded a monitoring system by which fisheries managers keep track of the fleet's overall catch, so that conservation targets can be met.
Justice Gouge said Mr. Steer, a 36-year-old fisherman who contracted out his services to vessel owners, had cheated his crew and his employers, because all parties are paid a share of the catch. He said Mr. Steer had also undermined conservation efforts on the West Coast.
"It is apparent that he is a man without a conscience," Justice Gouge said. "I impose a 10-year prohibition against the issuance of any new fisheries licenses or permits to Mr. Steer … [he] is not to be found on board any vessel which is licensed to engage in any commercial or aboriginal fishery in Canadian or American waters."
The judge wrestled with the issue of a fine, saying "a fine of $100,000 would be entirely inadequate," but a fine of more than $1,000 would exceed Mr. Steer's capacity to pay.
Instead, he imposed the 10-year ban and eight jail sentences of six months each, to be served concurrently.
"Mr. Steer is not a danger to society. If permitted to fish, he would be a danger to the fish," Justice Gouge said in his ruling.
The court also issued a restitution order for $15,000 to cover three month's salary that one crew member, a recent immigrant working at his first job in Canada, had not been paid. The judge said the vessel owners and other crew members could pursue civil actions against Mr. Steer.
Chris Acheson, executive director of the Canadian Sablefish Association, said he was pleased with the fishing ban, but had hoped Mr. Steer would get more jail time.
"If it was four years in jail, I'd say it was tough enough," he said.
Mr. Acheson said poachers damage fish stocks and hurt all "the honest fishermen" who abide by the rules.
"We're glad he's off the grounds for 10 years," he said.