October 7th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 39
Poaching of fish on Oldman River
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald Contributor photo
Bull trout and cutthroat trout illegally taken from the Upper Oldman River.
Pass Herald Reporter
In what has been called a significant poaching case, six Lethbridge men pleaded guilty to poaching threatened fish and were fined $1,000 each for taking four bull trout and 25 cutthroat trout from the Oldman River.

The accused — identified by the province as Harka Gurung, Sunny Gurung, Dhan Gurung, Sha Subba, Suk Subba and Kanchan Subba — who appeared in Pincher Creek Provincial Court Sept. 29, were unwilling to comment on the case but one of them referred to the experience as frightening.

On June 24, a member of the public contacted the Report A Poacher hotline regarding a group of anglers on the Oldman Rive upstream off Highway 22 near Racehorse Creek.

The concerned caller suspected the anglers were keeping more fish than the limit and recorded their licence plate numbers and Fish and Wildlife Officer Paul Johnson discovered the anglers in illegal possession of the fish.

“Maybe the accused weren’t aware of the impact it might have,” said Johnson. “But I think they knew they were not supposed to be keeping those fish. It was fairly highly advertised in the area.”

Crown Prosecutor Lisa Weich – referring to a professional impact statement delivered by a fisheries biologist – said that there are only about 200 spawning age bull trout on the Upper Oldman system. Two per cent of the total population was destroyed in a single poaching incident with the loss of only four individuals.
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The statement also confirmed that the fish had been caught in a migration corridor and that most of them were mature females who would have spawned this season.

Citing previous cases where poachers have been penalized by up to $1,000 per fish, the Crown argued the six co-accused should pay a total of $29,000 in fines, or about $4,800 per accused.

Weich argued for the confiscation of all their fishing equipment, the cancelling of their licences and a five-year fishing prohibition.

“The west slope cutthroat trout and bull trout are listed as threatened,” she said. “They are very close to becoming endangered.”

Duty council Marshall Gourlay said the six men were all originally from the same village in South Bhutan and had fled to Canada to escape ethnic strife. Several were born in refugee camps where they lived for decades. They all have permanent residence status and are all either semi-employed or in school. All are first time offenders.

Gourlay argued for a lighter fine that would “satisfy the court and public that some kind of deterrence has been done without persecuting these individuals.”

“Yes it’s an atrocity that the fish are endangered but these are not the kinds of people that are doing it for profit or flaunting the laws of Canada,” he said.
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The court handed down a lighter fine and the men’s fishing equipment will be returned to them.

The Oldman River and tributaries are a favorite destination of many anglers around Alberta. The watershed is facing significant threats from poaching and environmental degradation from factors such as mining, logging and irresponsible Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use.

At least half a dozen anglers from across southern Alberta who were attending the court proceedings questioned whether the court had imposed a harsh enough penalty.

“I am a little bit concerned,” said Calgary angler Jordan Pinkster. “We’re dealing with threatened species and if we start to make exceptions they’ll turn into endangered species and at that stage we’re fighting a losing battle. My personal take is the angler has the responsibility always. Before you set a line in the water, you need to know what the rules and regulations are.”
October 7th ~ Vol. 85 No. 39
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