Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers have seized over 200 illegal traps in Boundary Bay.
According to a DFO news release issued on Feb. 7, fisheries officers from Chilliwack and Langley, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, took part in a operation in Boundary Bay on Jan. 23 and 24, seizing 204 unmarked crab traps containing 1,268 mostly Dungeness crabs.
“The majority of traps seized during this operation contained fresh bait, were zap-strapped closed or lacked rot cord, and had no identifying information,” the release read.
Fisheries spokesperson Leri Davies told the Reporter illegal crabbing is an ongoing problem in the area and in this instance there was a range of infractions, the most obvious being that traps were not marked properly. In addition, the traps did not have so-called rot cords, which decompose over time to let crabs back out should the traps be lost at sea.
“We do regular enforcement actions, so this is just one of the various enforcements that we do from time to time,” Davies said.
“As a condition of the licence you have to have them buoyed, you have to have them marked. You have to make sure the traps have the rot cords.”
She added it is usually very hard to determine to whom unmarked traps belong.
Art Demsky, acting chief with DFO’s Langley detachment, said trying to collect unmarked crab traps is like “finding a needle in a hay stack” because the only way to locate them is by dragging a hook across the bottom of the bay with hopes of it catching something.
Demsky noted that those setting the traps put GPS locators on them in order to retrieve the traps when no one is around. In 2018, Demsky and his team collectively pulled more than a 1000 traps from Boundary Bay, while their counterparts in Washington state found about 700.
He is referring to the poaching as ghost fishing, since the animal’s inability to escape the trap allows the device to remain on the sea floor for a long time as bait is always replenished.
“We are aware of the large amounts of gear that are in the water,” Demsky said.
“Our area has one of the highest incidents rates in North America of ghost gear lost. It can be gear that’s set and someone knows where it is and can get it still.”
Demsky worries this type of poaching endangers crab populations since the federal agency is unable to put definite numbers on how many crabs are being caught, and because crabs spawn in open water where currents can take eggs any which way, other areas aside from Boundary Bay may be affected by the poaching, such as the Gulf Islands.
“We have no idea how much crab in this case is coming out of there if we don’t know how many traps are being fished because that [illegal fishing] is never reported,” he added.
“It has an overall effect on resources in that our fish managers don’t know what’s coming out and what’s available to replenish stocks in future years.”
Commercial crabbing season usually ends in November, Demsky said, and only Indigenous fisheries can operate any time of the year for food, social and ceremonial purposes.