A former Campbell River whale watching guide has been fined $6,000 for disturbing orcas.
It’s the second time Jason Smith, 43, has been fined for disturbing “northern resident” killer whales which are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk at Act.
It’s also believed to be the first time in Canada that the same person has been twice convicted for disturbing marine mammals under the Fisheries Act.
“(You) violated the interest of the public trust…in respect to this fragile resource,” said Judge Roderick Sutton.
In Campbell River provincial court on Thursday, Judge Sutton found Smith guilty of disturbing whales, but acquitted him on the more serious charge of harassing whales under the Species at Risk Act.
Last year, Quadra Island resident Carl Peterson, 52, was fined a precedent-setting $7,500 for disturbing and harassing killer whales just off Campbell River. It was the first conviction in Canada involving killer whales under the Species at Risk Act.
“This is very important,” said federal Crown prosecutor Larry Reynolds during Peterson’s sentencing hearing. “We’re trying to get the message out.”
The message is for all boaters to remain at least 100 metres away from all marine mammals and to view them for no longer than 30 minutes. But Smith says that distance is difficult to determine on the water.
“My opinion is they should also hold the companies responsible…they should provide their crew with equipment so they know exactly how far they’re away,” he told the Mirror on Tuesday.
In 2008, Smith was working as a guide for Eagle Eye Adventures when he was charged with disturbing orcas. He was found guilty in 2011 and fined $3,500 which he is still paying off.
Smith was awaiting trial on the first charges when he was charged again in August 2010, when he guided “as a favour” for the former Eagle Eye owner.
During the second trial, Fisheries Officer Carlos Paramio testified that he was contacted by another whale watching guide who was “very upset” that Smith was getting too close to a group of killer whales just north of the city. Two other groups of whale watchers reported the same thing, but Smith, who represented himself at trial, pointed out that others appeared to break the rules.
“I’m looking at three different witness statements and they all exceeded the 30-minute viewing time,” Smith said during his cross-examination of Paramio. “I’m wondering why there isn’t any shared responsibility here?”
Nevertheless, Smith was found guilty on the first count, fined $6,000 and banned from guiding for 10 years. The judge declined to jail Smith and gave him three years to pay the penalty which will go into an environmental damages fund to support killer whales.
Smith said its been a “taxing ordeal.” He now works on tugboats and isn’t inclined to do anymore whale watch guiding.
“I won’t ever go back,” he vowed. “I think they (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) are targeting a very specific group of people…I’m disappointed I was found guilty of anything.”