The owner of a fish and seafood shop at The Forks, at the centre of poached pickerel sting on Friday, says his business is completely above board.
Gus Tsouras of Fergies Fish 'N Chips & Seafood Market said today he only buys pickerel fillets from commercial fishers approved by the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.
"Everything that we have, on inventory, is and always has been from licensed and approved fishermen," Tsouras said. "That’s why we’re open today."
Undercover conservation officers working on a tip seized more than 326 kilograms of frozen and fresh pickerel fillets at the shop Friday evening. It's alleged three commercial fishers from Lake Winnipeg were delivering the fillets. Because some of the fillets were fresh, it means they were caught outside the summer commercial fishing season, which is over on Lake Winnipeg.
"This is just a means of trying to maintain the sustainability of the fisheries," Manitoba Conservation director of operations Blair McTavish said. "It is a form of poaching sometimes under guise of a commercial fishing licence. We're just trying to make sure it doesn't get out of hand."
Tsouras said he could not comment on what the three fishers were doing.
"A lot of people deliver here," he said. "I can’t comment on what they were doing. I don’t want to get into that while it’s before the courts."
No charges have been laid. If charges are approved by the Crown, they would come under the Fisheries Act. If convicted, the maximum fine is $100,000 or six months in jail.
All are presumed innocent.
The seized fillets will be donated to a local charity.
Commercial fishers are required to sell their fish through the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, or through a special dealer permit issued by the FFMC that allows them to sell to restaurant and retail/wholesale outlets that have been licensed by the FFMC.
If a fisher, when intercepted, does not have the proper documentation for the fish in their possession, McTavish said it likely means they are not claiming it against their quota. At the same time, the buyer is supposed to get a receipt that they received the fish.
Tsouras said Conservation has confirmed to him that that what he had on stock was all from licensed fishers.
"I can assure you no one has been charged," he said. "We’ve been here for many years, and as we are doing today, only selling properly licenced, properly receipted product."