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DFO cracks down on illegal seafood sales on Facebook

DFO cracks down on illegal seafood sales on Facebook

Gary Spencer is potentially facing charges or fines from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans because of a post on a Facebook page.

In late December of last year, Spencer says he was at the Metlakatla pier, on his way to Prince Rupert to sell extra bags of cockles and clams from a harvest for his family. He says he had about 36 bags worth of seafood from Kitkatla territory, offering his surplus for sale.

That’s when DFO officers caught up with him. They told him they had been monitoring him for a year on the Facebook page, which member use as a marketplace to buy and sell seafood. He got on the DFO’s radar after he posted an ad selling a couple bags of halibut.

Spencer, who lives in Kitkatla, says he doesn’t have a job, and was going to sell six bags of cockles for $25 each for extra Christmas cash. He says for him, and many of the people he knows, the extra cash they bring in selling their surplus harvest is important supplemental income to pay bills, and purchase other items from the store.

The Facebook page itself has almost 2,400 members; with items such as salmon, oolichan grease, seaweed, and cockles for sale. It’s an emporium for north coast seafood, and most of its members are Aboriginals.

Doug McArthur is a professor and the director of the Graduate School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, he also has extensive experience working on First Nations issues. McArthur says depending on specific treaties and agreements signed with the federal or provincial governments, selling a harvest collected under the “food, social, and ceremonial” fishery is illegal.

He says while the legality of selling the harvest isn’t in question, the validity of the law can be argued in court.

But he adds that there is a growing sentiment within governments to settle historical wrongs, and it’ll be up to either side to see how far they’re willing to push.

McArthur also notes that the federal government has always taken an hardline when it comes to cracking down on illegal sales, unless prior arrangements have been made, such as with the Nisga’a government. He says the government doesn’t recognize commercial sales as an Aboriginal right due to historical reasons.

Charles Menzies is with the UBC Department of Anthropology. He says evidence doesn’t support the government’s stance that there were no commercial markets in the past prior to European settlement.

Menzies adds that many communities along the coast and into the interior had trade for benefit, rather than a one for one trade.

He traces the restrictions on Aboriginal commercial trade to the colonial government’s policy to create an unequal commercial playing field to favour non-Aboriginals.

This grey market is economically important to many communities, which often have poor economic prospects. He adds the additional economic income means better socio-economic indicators all around for the sellers, even if the total economic value isn’t that high.

Menzies says the prohibition against Aboriginal commercial sales should be challenged, but says court challenges can be prohibitively expensive.

Gary Spencer in the meantime says DFO has offered him a choice of going to court to fight charges of illegal sales or to go through the restorative justice process. Spencer say his family wants him to fight the charges, and he says has approached the Gitxaala First Nation for support.

The Gitxaala First Nation declined to comment due to the sensitive nature of the case.

The DFO emailed a statement saying they cannot comment in on-going cases, but pointed out “the harvest of bivalve shellfish is prohibited in most areas of the BC North Coast due to the possibility of elevated levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning and other harmful toxins.”

About Gene Law

12 comments

  1. So sad., not very many harvesters in our family anymore. Me and my family rarely get any kind of our traditional foods. Our only way of getting any type of traditional foods is by supplying governments paper. I work for that piece of paper and by doing so I have no time to harvest for my own food. The harvesters use their own paper to get the traditional foods supply themselves and their family and the excess they try and trade so they can survive. Tsk tsk tsk on the DFO and your dirty tactics you should be chasing those sports fisherman who leave here from what you say your protecting with far more of what their allowed to. Makes me sick how much you turn your cheek to that. Pathetic. We were taught to respect our land but your to busy chasing us but turning your cheek to the ones that are really raping our resources.

  2. Dear DDO

    Protect BC from the corporations attempting to assaulting/annihilate whole ecosystems like Leelu Island and leave the poor man alone. Quit trying to misdirected attention onto this soul trying to provide for his family. Why is it too much for him to ask for compensation for time and fuel it took him to harvest these beautiful creatures from the earth. Shame on the oppressive mentality. Fight the real fight: corporations that endanger whole ecosystems!

  3. Selling First Nation to First Nation of any trade good should be allowed

  4. Fishing, hunting, gathering
    Aboriginal harvesting rights
    Aboriginal rights give Aboriginal people the right to participate in traditional activities on their ancestral lands. Traditional activities are activities that are a key part of the distinctive cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

    These activities include traditional harvesting activities, such as fishing, hunting, or gathering.

    500×500
    Aboriginal rights
    Aboriginal rights:

    are protected under the Constitution Act;
    include traditional harvesting activities, such as fishing, hunting and gathering plants;
    in general, only apply within the ancestral territory of your Aboriginal community.
    Who has Aboriginal rights in Canada?
    Aboriginal rights apply to:

    status Indians,
    non-status Indians,
    First Nations,
    Inuit, and
    Métis.
    There are important changes coming to the law that will affect Métis rights. Check back here for information and updates. Talk to your lawyer about any questions you may have.

    Find out more
    Aboriginal Harvesting Rights

    Explains what you can do if you’ve been charged with a harvesting offence, such as illegal hunting or fishing

    Get PDF »

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    Traditional activities
    Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal harvesting rights, are based on traditional activities. In general, these are activities that were practised before contact with Europeans.

    However, these activities can be carried out using modern methods. For example, if hunting used to be done with a bow and arrow and is now done with a rifle, the right to hunt doesn’t change.

    Aboriginal harvesting activities
    Aboriginal harvesting rights may include the right to:

    hunt,
    fish,
    trap,
    gather plants, and
    harvest wood.
    Aboriginal rights may also include the right to:

    trade,
    barter, or
    sell your harvest.
    Find out more
    A Guide to Aboriginal Harvesting Rights

    Explains harvesting rights and what to do if you’ve been charged with a harvesting offence

    Get PDF »

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    What if I’ve been charged with a harvesting offence?
    If you’ve been charged with a harvesting offence, such as illegally hunting or fishing:

    You have the right to get a lawyer.
    Aboriginal harvesting offences are covered by Legal Aid.
    Call Legal Aid immediately to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer.
    If you don’t qualify for legal aid, it’s still a very good idea to get legal advice. Call Legal Aid to find out what your options are.

    What if I’m not eligible for a legal aid lawyer?
    Aboriginal harvesting rights cases can be complex. It’s a good idea to get legal help.

    Your Aboriginal community may be able to help

    If you’re not eligible for legal aid, your Aboriginal community may be willing to help pay for a lawyer. This will depend on the circumstances of your offence and the circumstances of your Aboriginal community.

    Other legal help

    You may be able to discuss your matter with duty counsel, who will provide you with free legal advice.

    You may also be able to get legal information and support from:

    Aboriginal community legal workers
    Legal information outreach workers
    Native courtworkers
    What other options do I have?

    Restorative justice

    If you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions, you may be able to participate in an Aboriginal restorative justice program.

    Restorative justice:

    is based on Aboriginal healing traditions, and
    focuses on repairing the harm done by your actions.
    You, your community, and those affected by your actions will work together to restore harmony and move forward.

    In order to participate in a restorative justice program, the Crown counsel must agree to your participation in the program as a way to resolve the charges against you.

    Talk to your lawyer about what’s best for you.

    First Nations Court

    It’s very important to get legal advice before you plead guilty, in order to understand your Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.

    If you plead guilty to the charges, and Crown counsel agrees to it, you may be able to have your matter heard in First Nations Court.

    Find out more
    Brydges Line wallet card

    In police custody, arrested, or detained? Speak to a lawyer free of charge.

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    Legal Aid Can Help You

    Explains what legal aid is, how to apply, and how it can help you

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    What You Should Expect from Your Legal Aid Lawyer

    Describes the role of a legal aid lawyer and what you should expect from them

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    • Correct me if I’m wrong did the DFO already get defeated in the court of the land over these issues .I’m pretty sure a first nation went to court over this stuff awhile back and the courts agreed with the first nation people .In fact I’m pretty sure the court said any thing that walks swims crawls grows passes through stays part or full time .The first nations people of that land have a Comercial righr to.Further more every time the Government’s don’t want us first people doing anything its contaminated or its indangered. But when they have a vested interest ,all of a sudden it’s good to go .It’s all government control over us ,they openly steal our resources, pillage the land and water and expect us to pay for it.not only that make us criminal for doing what our people have being doing for thousands of years before they stile the country .

  5. The refusal of DFO to even implement any of the fishing rights that have been won in court by the nuu chah nulth is a joke , We are being held in oppression while DFO literally privatized all the fishing access and made many people wealthy .They cast us aside and make us criminals for wanting just the basic improvements to the quality of life which seems unattainable at times when you see so much wealth being extracted from our traditional lands and oceans . Access to the smallest quota is so expensive now that is unattainable to the people that would benefit the most ,which is the people that want to get there hands wet and dirty and not just sit back and collect a lease payment! I could go on and on but will leave it at that

  6. Correction: 2014. This sets a precident. Dfo has to figure out how to get along.

  7. Not a fan of DFO what so ever. Our ansestors never needed anyone to say when or not to go and harvest our food. Now not everyone has boats to go get their own winter supply. And why can you go walk into a Chinese store ND buy a can of ablone for $60 in Vancouver what’s the difference seriously we just have a different way of preserving our food the same way our ansestors been doing it for years.
    The Government is making more money than anyone off the sellfish.

  8. I think it’s time for all coastal first nation’s to get together and challenge the DFO they’ve always tried to deny us our aboriginal rights to trade and barter our foods their claims of she’llfish poisoning is a outright lie its time for us as first nation’s to come together for a common cause to be able to trade and barter for our goods with anyone so that we as first Nation peopjes can in fact support our families the way we have since the beginning of our people get this idea out time to unite and fight for our rights

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