Fishing boat master found guilty of crimes against Fisheries Act

A commercial fishing boat master who has operated out of Ucluelet and other Vancouver Island sites has been found guilty for the third time in the past six years of serious offences against the Fisheries Act, was sentenced on November 26, 2013, to six months in prison (concurrent on multiple counts), a $15,000 fine, and a 10-year prohibition from fishing in Canadian or U.S. waters.

On June 26, 2013, in Nanaimo Provincial Court, the Honourable Judge Ted Gouge found Scott Stanley Matthew Steer guilty of seven counts related to various illegal fishing activities.

According to court coverage by Ben Ingram of the Nanaimo Daily News, Steer’s offences involved illegally harvesting and selling out-of-season fish stocks.

The multiple convictions stemmed from fishing activity conducted by Mr. Steer between July 2010 and January 2011 when he was master of the commercial ground fish harvesting vessel, the Pacific Titan.

The illegal acts occurred in various locations around Vancouver Island, including Ucluelet, and in Dawson Creek. They include selling tuna, halibut and sablefish that were caught without a licence, and multiple other violations of the conditions of his commercial fishing licence.

Steer was employed as the fishing master of Pacific Titan, a 50-foot vessel authorized to harvest tuna in American waters, and sablefish in Canadian locations, with a home port in Gibsons.

From July to October of 2010, suspicions were roused when Steer caught less tuna than expected during three expeditions.

The Crown used heavy circumstantial evidence to convince Judge Gouge that Steer had used an alias, ‘John Renton,’ and that a cellphone found in his possession was used to arrange the transportation of a large shipment of illegally caught frozen sablefish and halibut fillets from Vancouver Island to Dawson Creek.

The halibut fishery is closed during the winter spawning months. Sablefish harvests are required to be validated by an independent observer when the catch is brought to land.

Between November and December, 2010, the court found that Steer “caught and landed large quantities of sablefish during that period surreptitiously, under cover of darkness and without validation,” according to Justice Gouge’s reasons for judgement.

“During the same period, Mr. Steer caught and surreptitiously landed a large quantity of halibut, a species which he was not instructed to fish by the vessel owners,” said Gouge.

“Common sense revolts at the idea that he confined such activities to the months of November and December,” he added.

The Pacific Titan is one of several fishing vessels owned by a corporate partnership that includes partners Jim Heras and Richard Beauvais.

According to court documents, Beauvais said he had been concerned about the hiring of Steer after he heard “rumours that Mr. Steer had engaged in the illegal sale of fish caught under the authority of aboriginal food-fishing licenses.”

The trial included eight days of evidence and 11 civilian witnesses and two fishery officers testifying on behalf of the Crown. Witnesses included business owners from Worldwide Seafoods and French Creek Seafoods and Archipelago Marine Research, which provides electronic onboard catch monitoring for the commercial fishing industry.

Justice Gouge said he was provided with victim impact statements from representatives from the fishing industry, deploring Mr. Steer’s conduct and requesting a serious penalty in the case.

“For the reasons put forward in those statements, the industry, in its own interest, should act to encourage whistle-blowers,” Gouge said.