Nova Scotia plans to increase the maximum fine for illegal out-of-season lobster purchases from $100,000 to $1 million. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Canada - Nova Scotia raising the fine for illegal lobster-buying to $1M, but hasn't imposed the current fine

Province says current maximum of $100K is 'not a deterrent'

Nova Scotia's plan to raise the maximum fine for fish plants that purchase lobster out of season is being questioned, after officials admitted they cannot find evidence the current maximum has been imposed in the recent past.

The decision to increase the penalty comes after complaints that unauthorized lobster from southwestern Nova Scotia is being sold through provincially licensed buyers.

Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig told reporters last week the current maximum is "not a deterrent. It's a cost of doing business — $100,000 is not enough. We need to be able to give the courts, and so on, the ability to fine up to $1 million. And that's what we're doing."

He did not say when the fine will increase from the current maximum of $100,000, which was introduced in 1999.

Craig was also asked how many times the $100,000 fine had been imposed, but he could not say.

No record province has sought current maximum

The department responded this week.

"Our records indicate that in recent years no provincial court-issued fines of $100,000 have been levied against commercial buyers or processors for violations under the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act," spokesperson Joann Alberstat said in a statement.


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Inshore fishermen's representative Colin Sproul says plenty of fish buyers are breaking the law but the province has too few resources to catch them.

"I guess we would say what's the point of a large fine, if the province does not have the capacity to enforce the law," said Sproul, who is president of Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance.

"We're happy to see the announcement of the fine being increased. What's more important is the department's will to enforce the law as it stands. So far we've not seen that will. The minister has significant enforcement tools that he's chosen not to use, up to this point."

The province says the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables has 51 conservation officers.  All are empowered to investigate commercial buyers or processors for violations under the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act.

It would not say how many were assigned to fishery cases.

Feds carrying the load

Provincial buyers and processor licence conditions require that purchased seafood be caught under federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved licences.

Recent convictions related to illegal buying, undisclosed sales or other infractions have resulted from federal investigations and charges. The province says offenders convicted at the federal level cannot also be convicted by the province for the same offence.

"The federal government can fine up to $1,000,000 for an individual's first offence. Raising fine amounts in the provincial Act is a deterrent to illegal activity and ensures that the maximum fine if someone is charged provincially is significant," Alberstat said in a statement.

Provincial licence suspensions

In recent years, convictions under federal legislation for fish plants or owners involved in the lobster fishery have resulted in a number of provincial licence suspensions or terminations.

In 2020, Guang Da International, a lobster pound at New Edinburgh was convicted for purchasing lobster under an Indigenous licence, which bars selling the catch. The owner was fined $1000,00. The provincial fish-buyer licence had been terminated in 2018.

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