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Government seeks to seize home of man guilty of illegal crab fishing off North Vancouver

Fisherman Scott Steer used the proceeds of crime to buy house and launder money, the director of civil forfeiture has alleged

The government’s director of civil forfeiture is going after a house on Gabriola Island as well as money held in bank accounts of a man convicted of numerous fisheries violations, including illegal crab fishing in the waters off North Vancouver in March of 2020.

The Director of Civil Forfeiture has asked that those assets be frozen so they can’t be transferred or sold before a court decides if they are the proceeds of crime.

The civil case has been filed against fisherman Scott Stanley Matthew Steer, his wife Melissa Larocque and her mother Diane Gail Butz, who is the registered owner of a house on Gabriola Island where Steer and his wife live.

Court documents also name bank accounts in the names of Steer and Larocque and several seafood companies they control.

In the court documents, the civil forfeiture director alleges Steer has a “prolific fisheries violation history with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in the Pacific Region.”

Those include five fisheries convictions in May 2021 for illegal crab fishing in Vancouver Harbour off North Vancouver in March 2020 in an area closed to crab fishing.

In a written decision outlining reasons for the convictions in B.C. Supreme Court, Justice Peter Edelmann described those events in Burrard Inlet off North Vancouver.

Edelmann described how just before midnight on March 1, 2020, SeaBus operators reported a small vessel in Vancouver Harbour without its lights on. Fisheries officers were dispatched to the scene where they testified seeing the vessel listing to the side in a manner consistent with hauling crab traps up from the sea floor. Fisheries officers described how after they approached, the vessel suddenly straightened, left suddenly, and started driving erratically at a high rate of speed.

Fisheries officers said the pursuit on the water lasted for about 10 minutes, ending at Lonsdale Quay where they jumped aboard the vessel, according to the judge’s description. On board, they discovered four commercial crab traps, along with holding pens containing about 250 crab.

Fisheries officers testified there were no floats on the vessel, as required on commercial crabbing traps. Instead, they located a grappling hook and chain, which officers indicated are often used to retrieve illegal traps from the sea floor, wrote the judge.

Edelmann convicted Steer on five fisheries charges.

According to the court documents filed by the director of civil forfeiture,Steer, Larocque and their companies have also allegedly been linked to the illegal sale of crab during a separate investigation by DFO officers in Steveston. Steer has also been charged with illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers.

He also allegedly applied for a fishing grant or loan in August 2020 through the Native Fishing Association in West Vancouver under the name Terry Seymour. An amount of $60,000 from that association was later deposited into a numbered company owned by Steer, the director has alleged.

A preliminary analysis of bank records showed that between February 2019 and March 2020 over $1.5 million, including over US$66,000 was deposited into accounts controlled by the couple, the civil forfeiture director has alleged.

The civil forfeiture director has also alleged the Gabriola Island property “is an instrument of crime” as the purchase was made with money earned from illegal activity or as a way to “launder money gained from the unlawful activity,” according to court documents.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.