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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Six Lethbridge men plead guilty to Oldman River fish poaching charges

Pincher Creek Fish and Wildlife officers Matias Voramwald and Paul Johnson at the Pincher Creek courthouse
T. Lucas photos/video except*
Toni Lucas

Six men from Lethbridge were at the Pincher Creek Provincial Court today, Tuesday September 29, to face charges related to poaching fish from the Oldman River.

Kanchan Subba, Harka Gurung, Suk Bahadur Subba, Sunny Gurung, Sha Bahadur Subba, and Dhan Kumar Gurung were tried as a group, and pleaded guilty to a charge of Unlawfully Caught Fish.

On June 24 of this year they were found by Pincher Creek Fish and Wildlife District Officer Paul Johnson in possession of 25 cutthroat trout and four bull trout, which are both considered to be threatened species.

Poached fish (submitted photo)*
Crown Prosecutor Lisa Weich said all the men admitted to using worms to fish, and that many of the fish recovered were females of spawning age, caught in a migration corridor.  Weich requested a penalty of $1000 for each of the 29 fish found in their possession, to be shared equally among the six men charged, which would have been a total of $4833 per man, and also asked for the revocation of their current fishing licences.  Weich also requested no fishing licences to be issued to the men for an additional five years, and a forfeiture of all their fishing gear.

Defence lawyer Marshall Gourlay said the six men came from Bhutan, an area torn apart by civil war.  He said they had spent most of their lives in refugee camps, and two of them were born and raised in those camps.  According to Gourlay the men have permanent immigration status and are trying to create a life in Canada.  "They were not doing it for profit," said Gourlay.  He outlined the lives the men live now, adding that none of them have a previous record, and said they have 'minimal means'.

Judge Oishi  said she was going to keep the sentence "proportionate to the offence and the offenders."  As this was the first offence for all six men, she levied a charge of $1000 for each person, ordered that their seized fishing equipment be returned to them, and agreed to the suspension of their fishing licences until the termination date of those licences in 2016, at which point the men would be able to apply again for new fishing licences.  All remaining charges were withdrawn.

Angler Jordan Pinkster speaks after sentencing

Calgary angler Jordan Pinkster arranged for a small rally of approximately six anglers who came to witness the court appearance.  Speaking before the trial Pinkster said "It's really an expression of solidarity at this stage.  This is a particular river system we feel very strongly about, it's a very important fishery, it's a very sensitive fishery, as well."  Pinkster said that many of the 29 fish removed from the river were of spawning age.  "Four of them were bull trout, and anyone who has lived in Alberta for a period of time has heard 'No black, put it back'.  We haven't been able to keep bull trout in Alberta for over 20 years.  The population still has not recovered.  I have heard that the adult population of bull trout in the upper Oldman system is less than 200 fish."  Pinkster said changes in spawning habitats, human disturbances in the habitats, sensitivity to climate changes, over-fishing in the past, and poaching have taken a serious toll on the population.  "This fish is having an uphill battle toward their long-term survival and this stuff doesn't help.  Cutthroat trout are also on the federal threatened species list."

Concerned anglers Cam Johnston and Jordan Pinkster
"When 20 spawning age fish are illegally pulled out of a fishery, it's a big deal.  It's a really big deal." Pinkster remarked that the entire stretch  of the river upstream of Highway 22 is catch-and-release only, and well marked as such. "We are here today to make sure that our friends in enforcement and our lawmakers here are aware of the fact that people really care about this stuff, and we are not just going to sit idly by and just allow this resource to be diminished like this.  I don't think we are going to gain a full appreciation for just how precious this resource is until it's too late."  Pinkster also said he believed the final judgement fit the situation.

Related story:
Alberta anglers plan to observe poaching case at Pincher Creek Provincial Court

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