Wildlife officials haul in network of fish-traffickers

Twenty-seven people from the Central Alberta and Edmonton region have been charged for their involvement in what officials are calling an illegal fish-trafficking ring.

Twenty-seven people from the Central Alberta and Edmonton region have been charged for their involvement in what officials are calling an illegal fish-trafficking ring.

The people — not associated with the legal commercial fishing industry — are from Pigeon Lake, Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Rimbey and Edmonton. They have been charged with 72 counts under the Fisheries Alberta Act. This includes the unlawful sale and purchase of walleye and whitefish, mainly removed from Pigeon Lake.

Miles Grove, superintendent of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement, says several lakes in Alberta have commercial fishing seasons. A commercial fisherman is a person or company with a licence to fish under strict conditions.

“If fish are taken lawfully under a commercial licence then that fisherman is able to sell those fish either to the Fresh Water Fish Marketing Corp., suppliers, or an individual buyer,” Grove explained on Wednesday.

Fish and Wildlife Enforcement started investigating in 2008 after officers in Wetaskiwin received information about illegal buying and selling of the fish. Grove says that commercial fishermen in Alberta are required under regulation to supply the buyer with a receipt, which lists a name, a commercial fishing licence number and the lake the fish were removed from.

“In this case, none of the fish that were trafficked came from legitimate means. The people (who are) a part of this would have had knowledge that this was illegal,” he said.

Walleye and whitefish are priority species, said Grove, as they have value for recreational anglers and are classified as vulnerable or at risk in some lakes.

“These fish are a public resource and we do not tolerate poaching,” he said.

Daryl Hunt, president of the Rimbey Fish and Game Association, said that there are about 21,000 members in fish and game groups across the province, all of whom are informed about having a licence, whether personal or commercial.

“If you’re going to fish, get a licence to fish and I’m very serious about that,” he said on Wednesday.

The 27 people will appear in court in May and face a maximum penalty of a $100,000 and one year in jail, if convicted.

Fish and Wildlife Enforcement has launched other undercover operations. Operation Spartan, out of the Athabasca and Lac La Biche area, convicted 21 people and one business, resulting in penalties in total of $208,700 and 90 days in jail. Operation Kool Aid, out of the Cold Lake and St. Paul area, convicted 34 people and one business, resulting in penalties of $273,350 and 54 and a half months in jail.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com