A commercial fisherman who is suing Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been fined $120,000 in Campbell River provincial court for unlawful possession of halibut and rockfish.
“The sentence is disappointing. I don’t know how a pensioner is going to pay for this,” said lawyer Phil Scarisbrick, who represents Gerald Dalum.
Scarisbrick has filed an appeal, but Dalum’s days as an independent fisherman are more or less over.
He still has his 65-foot long-liner Double Decker that’s tied up in Cowichan Bay, but due to the outstanding fine, his fishing licences are worthless.
“Basically, they’re saying I deliberately made $90,000 to retire on,” said Dalum during a phone interview. “I don’t like fishing politics and I don’t like the quota system.”
Dalum, 67, has been commercial fishing since 1968. Typically, he brought in 100,000 pounds of halibut and rockfish.
When Dalum returned to Port Hardy from a fishing trip in March 2007, he was carrying approximately 31,000 pounds of halibut over his quota as well an excess of various rockfish.
But this wasn’t unusual. In the past, he would buy quota from other licence holders in order to make up for the overage.
According to court documents, in previous fishing seasons Dalum bought extra quota from Blake Tipton of SM Products. But in 2007, he did not do so and had arranged from two other fishermen to buy extra quota.
However, when the two fishermen apparently reneged on the verbal agreement, Dalum believed he had no other choice but to sell the fish to SM Products. He also assumed that Tipton would deduct $90,000 in quota fees, but this never occurred.
“For reasons unknown, Tipton, although he purchased the fish, would not or could not provide quota,” wrote Scarisbrick, in a document filed with the court.
As a result, Dalum was charged with nine counts of possessing fish over his limit, but five of those charges were stayed by Crown counsel Digby Kier after Dalum obtained quota.
“One of the reasons that the Crown cites for staying counts 5-9 is the good faith effort of the defendant to secure quota only two months after the halibut trip,” wrote Scarisbrick. “This goes to the character and belies the likelihood of the defendant deliberately failing – as the Crown contends – to obtain quota in order to save $90,000.”
But Judge Brian Saunderson didn’t see it that way.
“In short, Mr. Dalum took a calculated risk in purchasing insufficient quota,” the judge said in a written decision. “One of the guiding principles of the Plan states that, ‘Fishers will be individually accountable for their catch.’ That is a clear warning that non-compliance with the fisheries regulations will result in sanctions.”
During sentencing last week, the Crown was seeking $147,000 in fines from Dalum and his self-owned company G.P. Dalum Enterprises Ltd. In the end, Judge Saunderson levied a $120,000 fine.
While Scarisbrick has filed an appeal, Dalum is still battling Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on another front.
Dalum runs the website fishingforfreedom.ca and in December 2007, he helped fund a class action lawsuit against DFO on behalf of commercial halibut fishermen.
The still pending lawsuit claims that DFO withheld 10 per cent of the annual halibut harvest from 2001-2006.