Reginald LeBlanc fined $15,000, Michael Sack fined $5,000, for buying, selling, trading or bartering lobster without a licence.
By Tina Comeau
A fine of $15,000 and another of $5,000 were handed down in provincial court in Yarmouth on June 18 after two men entered guilty pleas to charges of buying, selling, trading or bartering lobster without a licence.
Fined $15,000 was Reginald Joseph LeBlanc of Wedgeport Lobster Ltd. A charge against the company itself was withdrawn.
Fined $5,000 was Michael Patrick Sack of Shubenacadie, who was a seafood broker agent at the time the charges were laid.
The charges were laid after a search and forensic audit of documents at Wedgeport Lobster Ltd. in the summer of 2010 revealed that lobster that had been caught as part of the food, social and ceremonial fishery had been sold.
This included roughly 10,000 pounds of hard-shelled lobster at a price of around $4.50 a pound and 6,000 pounds of soft-shelled lobster at a price of $2.75 a pound. The lobster was sold between July 30 and Aug. 30, 2010.
Crown attorney Ronda Vanderhoek told the court that it is an offence to sell, trade or barter lobster in the absence of a commercial licence, and in the case of these sales, no such licence existed.
“That’s why we are here today in court,” she said.
Vanderhoek told Judge Robert Prince that given the size of the food fishery and the amount of lobster in this specific case, the overriding issue in this specific case was not conservation, given that the lobsters were caught within the provisions that exist for the food fishery. Although in saying that she also said that with any lobster violation, conservation should always be a concern.
Rather, she said in this case the most important issue is the management of lobsters caught in the food, social and ceremonial fishery and ensuring that these lobsters are not sold commercially.
She said when it comes to the food fishery and the commercial fishery, “the two cannot be mixed,” saying doing so could create a free-for-all situation.
Defence lawyer Clifford Hood, who represented LeBlanc, spoke about some of the history of the food fishery during his remarks to the court. He spoke about how years ago a system was put in place by DFO, whereby there were hundreds of small fishing enterprises that were each allowed to fish two traps a day for the food fishery. This was spread out all over lobster fishing area 34.
But, Hood said, there was suspicion amongst the non-aboriginal community that much of the lobster being caught in the summer was going into the commercial stream.
In the case of Indian Brook, part of the Shubenacadie First Nation, what evolved between it and DFO was an agreement that brought together 81 of the individual two-pot licences to create one overall community licence that had a daily trap limit, a daily catch limit and an overall season limit attached to it, thereby diminishing many of these smaller operations and making the fishery easier for DFO to manage and monitor.
Wedgeport Lobster Ltd. provided a vessel, and part of the crew, for Indian Brook to use for its food fishery and the lobsters caught were stored at Wedgeport Lobster Ltd.
But Hood said the community licence policy struck between DFO and Indian Brook left out a piece of the puzzle.
“The disconnect was that you can’t sell them. Well, if you can’t sell them, how do you pay for the operation? How do you pay the crews? The fuel? The bait?” he told the court.
So what next evolved, he said, was a private company, not the aboriginal band, purchasing the lobsters, with the proceeds of these sales being used for band purposes.
Sack was the broker who looked after this.
“We had a rather noble purpose here, which came in conflict with the law as it is written,” Hood said, adding LeBlanc’s interpretation of what you could or couldn't do within the policy “was overly aggressive.”
Sack’s lawyer told the court his client did not directly benefit from any sale of the lobster, as he was, again, just the agent. He said Sack may have received a handling fee, but if so it wouldn’t have been very significant.
The court was told the company is no longer buying lobsters.
The fines handed down by the court were a joint recommendation. Vanderhoek told the court if the matter gone to trial, which would have been a lengthy and complicated process, the Crown would have sought higher fines.
Sack was allotted six months to pay his fine.
Hood said his client, who was not in court, could pay his fine that day or the next day. The court gave LeBlanc two weeks to pay the fine.