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Province casts net for illegal fish sellers

Underground market running rampant

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2010 (2836 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CONSERVATION officers are cracking down on rampant black-market sales of Manitoba's freshwater fish -- busting both sellers and buyers.

Provincial officials say the black-market sale of fish creates significant problems for wildlife, fishers, grocers and customers.

The Manitoba Natural Resource Officers' Association fears hundreds of thousands of kilograms of walleye are sold illegally in Manitoba every year.

The crackdown has cast a wide net.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2010 (2836 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Commercial ice fishers near Elk Island on Lake Winnipeg.

JEFF DE BOOY / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Commercial ice fishers near Elk Island on Lake Winnipeg.

CONSERVATION officers are cracking down on rampant black-market sales of Manitoba's freshwater fish — busting both sellers and buyers.

Provincial officials say the black-market sale of fish creates significant problems for wildlife, fishers, grocers and customers.

The Manitoba Natural Resource Officers' Association fears hundreds of thousands of kilograms of walleye are sold illegally in Manitoba every year.

The crackdown has cast a wide net.

In the most recent case, Manitoba Conservation laid nine charges against a man and a woman from Amaranth in October for allegedly violating the Wildlife and Fisheries Act. The couple was accused of illegally transporting and selling fish and wildlife. Officers seized a vehicle, the head of a white-tailed deer and 180 kilograms of fish after a five-month investigation.

"This case is just an example of the bigger problem of the black-market sale of fish," said Grant Wright, compliance and field services manager with Manitoba Conservation. Because the prohibited distribution of fish is so common, Wright said, Manitoba Conservation has put more people in the field to investigate unlicensed sellers.

Illegal fish sales happen when a distributor does not own a fishing licence and violates the Fisheries Act — regulations meant to monitor, protect and enhance fish population and habitat.

Wright said the illegal sale of fish not only undermines the quota management system put in place for sustainability, but also harms local businesses.

Johann Markusson, an employee at the Gimli Fish Market on Pembina Highway, believes the underground fish market could take away sales.

"We sell fish legally here. If someone set up shop two blocks from here and sold illegal fish, they would probably undercut our prices and take our customers," said Markusson, who pointed out this problem could also adversely affect fishers who hunt and sell legally.

Wright said most grocers purchase fish from legal sellers, but the black-market distribution usually involves selling fish in a parking lot or outside a business.

"If a customer is buying a fish in a parking lot or outside a business and is not given a receipt, they should wonder why; it is probably illegal selling," said Wright.

A man was charged in May for illegally selling walleye in a parking lot outside a Selkirk business. The seller and customer were both charged.

"The customer is just as liable as the distributor," said John Williams, president of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation. "It is illegal to buy fish that has been caught without a proper licence."

Although Manitoba Conservation attempts to deter fish poachers, Williams believes it is not enough and the province needs more staff in the field.

Williams said if the province spent more money on wildlife preservation, more officers would lead to more investigations of illegal fish sellers.

"For officials to properly clamp down on these people, it takes a lot of time and finances," said Williams.

"And right now there is a dwindling number of officers and finances."

katie.dangerfield@freepress.mb.ca

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