Humpback whale held for illegal fishing

St. Andrews — A humpback whale caught fishing illegally in the Bay of Fundy has been cautioned and released by officers of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources. The incident occurred last Tuesday around sunset when the enforcement team was called out by a member of the public to respond to a report of suspicious fishing activity.

whale1The 24-tonne whale was spotted gorging on mackerel and herring about 20 miles from St. Andrews-by-the-Sea by local fisherman Freddie Jeffries, who immediately suspected that something might not be quite right. “I know that the DFO and DNR have been clamping down a lot lately on anyone who is out here fishing without a commercial licence,” said Jeffries, “so when I saw this guy taking in hundreds of pounds of fish with each go, I for sure knew he wasn’t just out here for pleasure-fishing. I called it in right away and wouldn’t you know, the boys were out right quick to take him down.”

“As soon as we received the call,” said Mike McCafferty, the officer in charge of the St. Andrews fisheries enforcement team, “we launched out as quickly as possible. We know that with reports like this, time is of the essence since these illegal fishers will do anything they can to avoid the law.

“Sure enough, just like the report said, there was this big guy just plowing through whole schools of herring and mackerel,” continued McCafferty, “and he was so brazen that even when we approached, he just kept on harvesting away.”

The officers turned on their video recording equipment to capture evidence before calling on the individual to stop and to allow them to come alongside. “We got on the loudspeaker, lit up the sirens and called for him to stand by until we could get to him, and boy, he didn’t like that. He took off cruising and so we had to crank up the twin 200s and go after him.”

After giving chase for upwards of 3 miles, the tide began to turn for the officers, as the fugitive plowed heedlessly into a mass of fishing gear floating in the bay and became hopelessly entangled. “We quickly caught up to him then,” said McCafferty, “and we’re certainly thankful that some other law-abiding fisherman had been able to leave his nets floating around. Otherwise, I doubt we would ever have been able to catch this troublemaker.”

It was as the officers began to read the fugitive his rights that McCafferty’s partner from the DNR noticed a problem — the suspect was only 35 feet long. “At that length, it was clear that the suspect was not a full-size humpback whale,” said Jim Johnson, the DNR officer for St. Andrews, “which means that he was a juvenile and so was protected from prosecution.” According to the 1985 Federal Fisheries Act, juveniles caught fishing illegally in Canadian waters, even on such an industrial scale, cannot be prosecuted. “Well, we decided to just give him a warning and let him go this time,” continued Johnson, “and we hope that he takes it to heart. I don’t want to have to do this again in another few years when he could get into some real trouble.”

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