Undercover conservation officers working on a tip hooked more than 326 kilograms of frozen and fresh pickerel fillets in a sting at The Forks Friday evening.
It's one of the biggest seizures in recent memory and highlights how some people are netting fish out of season on Lake Winnipeg to sell on the black market, Manitoba Conservation director of operations Blair McTavish said.
"It's a fair bit for one sale," McTavish said Wednesday. "It's not a significant amount in the grand scheme of the fishery, but it's more of the cumulative effect if people keep doing it."
It's alleged the fish were to be delivered to Fergies Fish 'N Chips & Seafood Market. An employee declined comment.
Three commercial fishers from Lake Winnipeg and the owner of Fergies face charges under the Fisheries Act. If convicted, the maximum fine is $100,000 or six months in jail.
None of the people charged has been convicted, and all are presumed innocent of the charges.
The seized fillets will be donated to a local charity.
McTavish said because some of the fillets were fresh, it means they were caught outside the summer commercial fishing season, which is over on Lake Winnipeg.
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.
"This is just a means of trying to maintain the sustainability of the fisheries," 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."
He added the department has recently had two other seizures of poached pickerel, totalling 27 kilograms and 181 kilograms, respectively.
Last year, a 72-year-old barber was fined $2,600 for selling black-market pickerel out of his Jefferson Avenue business.