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Some people never seem to get the message poaching is a serious offence.

Some people never seem to get the message poaching is a serious offence. The courts, however, are taking it quite seriously and laying down some significant fines and jail terms for those who are caught.

As well, under the law, they are viewing this illegal practice as serious enough to seize vehicles and all equipment that may have been used in the criminal act. That could include such high cost items as pickup trucks or ATV nets; indeed anything connected with the offence, all of which revert to the Crown and are disposed of at public auction.

There are many examples of courts dealing harshly with offenders. One salmon poacher learned the hard way this offence is very serious. He was recently sentenced in provincial court to two months in jail following his conviction for netting salmon in inland waters.

Federal fisheries officers arrested him during a routine patrol. He was caught with a net and a large salmon which were seized by the Crown.

The man had a previous conviction for poaching which seems not to have sunk in. He had been sentenced in 1996 to 40 days in jail after he was caught sweeping a salmon pool with a net. It seems he hadnt learned his lesson.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials said the previous conviction was a factor in the most recent sentence. As well, he was placed on two-year probation during which time he was prohibited from any fishing activity in coastal or inland areas.

This is just one example of what can happen when one is caught poaching. There are numerous salmon poaching incidents that occur each summer which end in similar expensive results for those apprehended by authorities.

Wildlife is another matter. Moose poaching is still a way of life in some areas, and each year there are people who flaunt the law by taking animals illegally and are caught.

The same is true to a lesser degree for caribou, which have now been depleted thanks to the burgeoning coyote population.

Fines of several thousands of dollars, losses of expensive vehicles and equipment including firearms, and even jail time seem to be viewed as little more than a minor deterrent by those who insist on poaching these animals. In some parts of the province it is organized into a black market operation where animals are harvested en masse.

Fish and wildlife are in enough trouble without adding to their declines. Atlantic salmon in particular are vanishing at an alarming rate. Sport fishers, who were active 40 years ago, can attest to their abundance in Newfoundland and Labrador rivers.

Once their feeding grounds were discovered off western Greenland in the late 1960s they were harvested to the point of near extinction.

Despite a moratorium on the commercial harvest, salmon have not recovered as was anticipated by biologists. Management of the species has resulted in a series of steps such as slot sizes, controlled harvesting through protocols and a season limit on retention of six fish which was once enjoyed in one day.

Poaching of fish and wildlife is just as serious a crime as theft, because the perpetrators are robbing the rest of us of the chance to fish and hunt legally. And if you purchase a poached fish or wild meat you are just as guilty of the person who did the dirty deed.

Thankfully, poaching seems to be slowly dying off as younger generations accept the fact conservation and restraints are necessary, if their children and grandchildren are to enjoy what we have enjoyed in the past.

The way to stop poaching requires a combination of court penalties as a deterrent and an attitude expressed by Newfoundland residents this is a disgusting and illegal act that is robbing them and their neighbours.

If it doesnt cease, then Atlantic salmon, moose, woodland caribou and black bears (which are poached for their valuable gall bladders) may become little more than pictures in a history book and memories of a time that was.

Len Rich is a long time writer and book author in Grand Falls-Windsor and the Eastern Regional Director of a national group of about 300 outdoor communicators and corporate members. His area covers Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec.

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