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Officers seize $500,000 worth of baby eels outside Halifax amid fishery closure

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HALIFAX -

Fisheries officers seized 113 kilograms of baby eels worth around $500,000 and made one arrest during a recent inspection outside Halifax in an effort to crack down on illegal harvesting.

The federal Fisheries Department said it also seized a truck and trailer along with $15,792 in cash during the inspection Friday in Enfield, N.S. Officials offered no other details about the arrest and seizure.

"To maintain operational integrity, we do not disclose the number of active officers nor what specific enforcement activities they are undertaking," department spokesperson Lauren Sankey said Monday in an email.

The department closed the fishery for baby eels, known as elvers, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for 45 days on April 15 after reports of poaching and of violence among fishers. Elvers are worth more than $4,000 per kilogram; they are fished at night and flown live to Asia where they are grown for food.

Officials said Monday that since the closure they have made 53 arrests and seized 123 kilograms of elvers, 28 dip nets, 46 fish traps -- known as fyke nets -- four vehicles, a trailer and more than $15,000 in cash.

The arrest figure is an increase of 35 people over the 18 initially reported on Wednesday. The new numbers also show that 13 more dip nets have been confiscated since last week's report, along with 24 more fyke nets and an additional 116.5 kilograms of elvers.

The initial figures released last week were described as "shockingly low" by commercial fisher Stanley King, owner of Nova Scotia's Atlantic Elver Fishery Ltd. King has sent emails almost daily to federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, detailing alleged illegal fishing activities.

In his latest email to the minister, dated Sunday, he provided photos of alleged poaching on the East, Sackville and Ingram rivers.

"This is the 21st time I've reported elver poaching from these locations in the 22 days since the fishery was closed," King wrote to Murray. "Without enforcement, the shutdown order has only hurt licence holders, clearing the rivers for poachers."

In a statement Monday, the federal minister's office said enforcement measures were ongoing.

"Fishery officers are enforcing the Fisheries Act and working together with the local law enforcement to combat illegal fishing," it said. The Fisheries Department, Murray's office added, "is committed to continue working with other agencies, including New Brunswick Justice and Public Safety to combat the illegal fishing, sale and export of elvers."

Commercial fishers have been calling for increased enforcement of the closure, and on Friday New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Margaret Johnson demanded immediate action against poaching.

Indigenous fishers, meanwhile, have said they have a treaty right to fish for elvers and aren't subject to the federal closure.

On Monday, the New Brunswick government confirmed in an email that its Department of Justice and Public Safety deployed officers to assist federal officers over the weekend.

Nova Scotia's Opposition Liberals accused the government of Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston on Monday of ignoring the problem of illegal fishing in the province.

"As the issue persists, we need to see some real action on the file from the Houston government to protect our elver fishery and get our authorized fishers back in the water," Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said in a news release.

In a statement, Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Steve Craig said the latest report on the seizure in the Enfield area was encouraging, but "more needs to be done .... I also call on my federal colleague at (the Fisheries Department) to ensure adequate enforcement resources are urgently assigned to Nova Scotia's rivers to protect the long-term sustainability of both eel stocks and the elver fishery."

Last week Craig said the province licenses the purchasing and processing of elvers and has the ability to crack down on illegal sales. However, he said no fines or penalties have been imposed this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

For the latest Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page.

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