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Guilty pleas expected in Bella Bella fishing, reef damage case

The offences took place in July 2020.
Glass sponges in Howe Sound (c) Adam Taylor, MLSS
Glass sponges in Howe Sound. Photo: Adam Taylor/MLSS.

A B.C.-based fishing company and a man alleged to have harmed marine life in a protected area are expected to plead guilty to federal charges, provincial court documents say.

The charges against Osprey Marine Ltd. and David Smith allege three offences near the coastal village of Bella Bella in July 2020.

They appeared before a Vancouver Provincial Court judge May 10 and again on July 12.

The Oct. 19, 2022 court information alleges Osprey and Smith unlawfully set fishing gear during a closed time (July 17, 2020) contrary to the federal Fisheries Act.

A second count said Osprey and Smith allegedly carried out an activity that disturbed, damaged, destroyed and removed living organisms or harmed marine habitat contrary to the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Areas Regulations the same day. Those regulations fall under the federal Oceans Act.

The third count alleges they unlawfully fished for Pacific hake by midwater trawl during a closed period — a Fisheries Act offence.

Count four says they unlawfully possessed fish caught in contravention of the Fisheries Act or regulations.

Federal protection

In 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada protected nine sponge reef complexes in the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound via formal bottom-contact fishing closures.

In February 2017, the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area was designated under the Oceans Act.
A UNESCO world heritage website said four major glass sponge reefs were discovered by the Geological Survey of Canada in 1987.

They are located between Haida Gwaii and the mainland of British Columbia in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound.

“These sponge reef complexes are considered to be the largest living example of glass sponge reefs that were abundant in the Jurassic Period,” the UNESCO site said. “The reefs are made up of large colonies of glass sponges and are estimated to be 9,000 years old.”