The secret is out. Powell River area has a bountiful stock of delectable shellfish, and everyone in the Lower Mainland seems to know it.
A quick Google search of "shellfish tours Sunshine Coast" reveals options for urban residents to take a day trip up to Powell River or Sechelt and bring back fresh oysters, clams, crabs and more of the local beaches’ creatures.
Most of this activity is within federal regulations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada officers are sticking by their claim that the majority of shellfish tourists are properly licensed and picking within their limits.
However, every so often there is an incident such as the recent seizure of nearly 2,500 clams and 300 oysters from two small vehicles, and everything comes to a full stop. Nearly 3,000 shellfish in two vehicles?
Powell River, we have a huge problem. The daily limit per person is 15 for oysters and 75 for clams.
Steps can be taken to curtail shellfish over-harvesting, including seasonal closures, steeper fines and heightened stock assessment and monitoring. Some locals have even suggested the government refuse licences to non-residents, which is probably the quickest way to slow down fishing activity.
But will any of this stop people from breaking the law if they choose to? Regulations will never trump bad morals. Some people will risk fines for the chance to bring a vehicle full of shellfish back to the city to eat themselves or resell on the black market. Even if these illegal fishers are caught over-harvesting once, but get away with it a few other times, they still come ahead in the end. The recent criminals were only fined $3,000.
Illegal fishing is not reserved to tourists, however. Poaching can be and is also done by locals. In order for us to hold over-harvesters from outside the area fully accountable, we first must be sure our own residents are following the law.
Buy licences, do not over-harvest, keep the beaches clean and show respect for local fisheries, especially those of Tla'amin Nation. Once all of that has been done, fisheries officers can then focus on punishing out-of-town poachers to the fullest extent of the law.
The secret it out, but if everyone plays by the rules there is always more than enough seafood to go around.
Jason Schreurs, publisher/editor